Living in the Pacific Northwest – the region that spans from Oregon through British Columbia, Canada – means that we take our coffee quite seriously. The word ‘snobbery’ is an understatement that does not even begin to describe the obsession with the meticulously artisanal-roasted little brown beans. Aficionados, connoisseurs, and coffee-roasters alike quest for the perfect blend of flavours and aromas in their crema covered espressos and Caffè Americanos.
Using next generation sequencing techniques, a group of researchers have sequenced the genome of Coffea canephora, a coffee variety known as robusta. Their research provides insights into the genetic underpinnings of the caffeine and aromatics that we crave, giving breeders a potential ability to unlock new and exciting flavours. However and more importantly, this knowledge will help arm coffee growers to protect these precious crops from environmental factors that threaten them worldwide.
Coffee trees are highly susceptible to environmental conditions. Overly dry conditions easily cause the crops to dry and wither. Overly wet conditions facilitate the growth and spread of a detrimental fungus commonly known as rust. Current changes to climate conditions have been severely impacting the success of the crops in Central America. It has been speculated that the region could lose up to 40% of its crop due to the growing problem with rust. Knowing and understanding the genetic makeup of the crop by nucleic acid extraction and analysis empowers researchers to establish breeds that are resistant to disease, pests and environmental conditions.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity, next to petroleum oil. Approximately 2.25 billion cups of coffee worldwide are consumed per day and it is estimated that 83% of adults in the United States drink coffee. As I sit here with my cup of Kopi Luwak, I can only appreciate the value and importance this research.