The newly sequenced genome of the coffee plant reveals that enzymes that help produce caffeine evolved independently in coffee like tea and chocolate and was not inherited from a common ancestor.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio) have participated in an international consortium which has newly sequenced the genome of the coffee plant Coffea canephora, one of the parents of the hybrid Coffea arabica.
“Coffee is as important to everyday early risers as it is to the global economy. Accordingly, a genome sequence could be a significant step toward improving coffee,” said Philippe Lashermes, a researcher at the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD). “By looking at the coffee genome and genes specific to coffee, we were able to draw some conclusions about what makes coffee special.”
The study, was published online in the journal Science Thursday.
Lashermes, along with Patrick Wincker and France Denoeud, genome scientists at the French National Sequencing Center (CEA-Genoscope), and Victor Albert,an evolutionary biologist at the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York, are the principal authors of the study.
Julio Rozas, professor from the Department of Genetics of the Faculty of Biology at UB and ICREA Academia researcher, and Pablo Lirando, UB postdoctoral researcher, have also participated in the analysis of coffee DNA.
“A small percentage of them survive, either by splitting functions or evolving new ones,” said Victor, part of the State University of New York. “In the case of caffeine genes, we have a series of duplications that occurred all next to each other, which gave rise to enzymes that catalyze different steps” in caffeine production.
Coffee is the chief agricultural product of many tropical countries. An estimate from the International Coffee Organization suggests that in the year 2013 more than 8.7 million tons of coffee was produced and the revenue generated from exports was $15.4 billion in 2009-2010. During 2010 nearly 26 million people were employed nearly in 52 countries.
The truth behind the beginning of caffeine production has not been much discovered.
The team first drafted a high-quality design of the genome of Coffea canephora which was followed by the finding the characteristic by which coffee’s genetic make-up is distinct from other species.
In comaprision of species like the grape and tomato, coffee cherish larger families of genes that relate to the production of alkaloid and flavonoid compounds, which contributed to the coffee aroma and the bitterness of beans.
The caffeine production was feasible as the compound repels insects that prey on leaves and stunt competitors’ growth.
“It turns out that, over evolutionary time, the coffee genome wasn’t triplicated as in its relatives: the tomato and chile pepper,” Wincker said. “Instead it maintained a structure similar to the grape’s. As such, evolutionary diversification of the coffee genome was likely more driven by duplications in particular gene families as opposed to en masse, when all genes in the genome duplicate.”
The data should be shared so that it can be utilised in immunizing the plants from enemies like climate change and pests, said an accompanying editorial by Dani Zamir of the Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“The challenge now is to translate these decoded genomes into new and improved tools for plant breeding,” Zamir wrote.
“The danger to the coffee crop should provide an incentive for all stakeholders to initiate international collaborations in genomic-assisted breeding projects and germ plasm conservation with poor, coffee-exporting countries.”
“There is an opportunity in the future to do GMOs, but our interest at UC Davis is to apply plant breeding technologies to improve the sustainability of coffee,” Medrano said. “There’s a social and cultural component to coffee. It affects the lives of so many people.”