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Coffee Beans' Genes
June 10, 2004
New, gourmet coffees might result from
investigations by researchers in Hawaii. Agricultural Research Service scientists at
the U.S. Pacific Basin
Agricultural Research Center and their
Hawaii Agriculture Research Center
colleagues are discovering more about the genetic makeup of this popular
tropical crop. Their studies should benefit coffee lovers as well as coffee
growers. Both research centers are located in Aiea, just outside of Honolulu.
One of the scientists' goals is to ensure that coffee's genetic diversity,
or gene pool, is preserved for the future. That's because as-yet-unknown genes
in today's popular commercial coffee varieties or in their wild, uncultivated
relatives might hold the key to delicious new coffees for tomorrow.
The researchers examined coffee's genetic material, or DNA, to look for
similarities and differences. Any dissimilarities among the species could be
important. They could reveal interesting genes, such as ones that make some
plants hardier or more disease resistant, or make their beans more flavorful.
The researchers analyzed Coffea arabica and C. canephora, the
two most widely grown coffees in the world, and C. liberica, grown
commercially in the Philippines as well as in parts of Africa. C. arabica
was about 50 percent different from C. canephora and C.
liberica. These differences may explain why these species vary in their
resistance to pests, for example, or thrive at disparate elevations. Of the
five C. arabica varieties studied, Catimor and Mokka Hybrid differed the
most from each other--information that could eventually result in a better cup
These studies are the most comprehensive genetic analyses to date of
cultivated C. arabica coffees and the first to use a sophisticated
laboratory technique called AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism). The
scientists' findings were reported earlier in the journal Theoretical
and Applied Genetics.
Read more about the research in the June issue of Agricultural Research