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Coffee Genome Sequence Reveals Why It Smells So Good

For the first time, More than 60 scientists from across the world have successfully sequenced the genome of the coffee plant. They found that the thing people love about coffee – the caffeine – is a result of genetic makeup. Caffeine in coffee evolved independently of that found in other plants such as tea or chocolate. Findings of the study could help improve the flavor of the most popular beverage. Researchers said people consume more than 2.25 billion cups of coffee worldwide every day.

Scientists studied the genome of Coffea canephora

Victor Albert, a biologist at the University of Buffalo, told the Associated Press that the genetic quirk in coffee was likely by the influence of natural selection. Results of the were published in the journal Science. Scientists will also present the research at the 25th International Conference on Coffee Science in Colombia next week.

Researchers studied specifically the genome of Coffea canephora, commonly known as Robusta coffee. It accounts for more than 30% of the global coffee production, according to the National Coffee Association. The positions and sequences of genes responsible for caffeine in the coffee plant evolved separately from genes with similar functions in chocolate and tea, which also produce caffeine. That means coffee developed these genes on its own rather than inheriting from a common ancestor.

Coffee plant has most of its caffeine in the leaves

Coffee mutated to have caffeine, which turned out to be a good thing, said Albert. It has a lot more caffeine in the leaves than in the bean. Scientists found that the coffee has larger families of genes linked to the production of flavonoid and alkaloid compounds that contribute to the aroma and bitterness of beans.

Albert says it was driven by natural selection because pollinators such as bees like caffeine and they chew on the plant leaves. But insects hate caffeine. Therefore, pollinators keep coming back for more caffeine, which plays a key role in the plant reproduction. Jeff Dangl, a plant genomics professor at the University of North Carolina, said natural selection to help the plant deter insects turned out pretty well for us.