Scientists love arabica coffee as much as we do • Earth.com

Scientists love arabica coffee as much as we do

01-16-2017

Coffee lovers know how important that morning cup is, so it only makes sense that coffee-loving scientists from the University of California, Davis would take it a step farther.

Researchers have released the genome sequence for Coffea arabica, the species that produces around 70 percent of the world’s coffee beans.

It’s no surprise that scientists in California jumped on board the project. The state has a coffee addiction. When the magazine Men’s Health compiled a list of the 100 U.S. cities that drink the most coffee, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose all landed in the top 20. San Diego, Fresno, Oakland, Stockton, and a handful of others made the list, too.

The project grew out of a friendly challenge from Central American scientists. Dr. Juan Medrano, a UC Davis geneticist and one of the researchers on the coffee sequencing team, has focused his career on animal genetics.

But when Coffea canephora, the bean most often used for instant coffee, was sequenced in 2014, Medrano’s colleagues challenged him to take on the more genetically complex C. arabica. The results is delighting arabica coffee lovers everywhere.

He tapped fellow University of California, Davis scientists Dr. Allen Van Deynze, who focuses on molecular breeding of plants; Dr. Dario Cantu, a plant geneticist who studies wines; and Dr. Amanda Hulse-Kemp, a postdoctoral researcher. They worked with farmer Jay Ruskey, who is growing the first commercial coffee crop in the continental United States just north of Santa Barbara, California.

They collected samples from several of Ruskey’s Geisha coffee trees, and got to work.

Because C. arabica is a hybrid cross of C. canephora (robusta coffee), and C. eugenioides, it has four sets of chromosomes. This made sequencing more complex than most other plants and even humans, which have only two sets of chromosomes.

The team has sequenced one of Ruskey’s trees, and released that genome sequence. They hope to use samples from 22 other C. arabica plants to begin documenting genetic variations that add to the bean’s complex flavor profile.

They also hope that releasing the genome can help plant scientists and coffee farmers work together to create more sustainable farming practices, as coffee’s popularity grows.

The Tokyo-based Suntory group, an international food and drink company, provided funding for the project. Thanks so science for illuminating our arabica coffee ritual even more!

Video Credit: University of California

By Kyla Cathey / Earth.com staff writer

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