Genetically Engineered Coffee on the Horizon?

coffee_dnaA team of scientists announced that for the first time, they’ve been able to isolate and sequence the coffee genome. As such, they believe they could develop better breeding practices for coffee, and maybe even genetically engineer an optimal brew.

One of the most surprising discoveries from the genome mapping was the discovery of the genes used to produce caffeine. As such, scientists are wildly speculating as to why plants would “want” to create caffeinated leaves. Some of these theories include acting as a deterrent to herbivorous insects, making the soil less hospitable to other types of plants, or turn pollinators into addicts. Regardless the reason, finding the gene means scientists can isolate the gene that creates the caffeine producing enzyme in coffee, tea, and cocoa plants.

Therefore, in addition to possibly genetically engineer a “perfect” robusta or arabica plant, it’s possible scientists will be able to engineer and breed a decaffeinated plant. Doing so would remove that extra step needed to decaffeinate the beans, and possibly not alter the rich taste from regular caffeinated coffee as much. (Anyone will tell you, even those who drink decaf coffee, that decaf tastes differently from regular coffee.)

The team also has high hopes for using their knowledge of the genome to create disease-resistant plants or pest-deterring plants which could reduce, if not eliminate, the use of pesticides. Or perhaps, creating plants more resilient to climate changes.

This discovery could change the coffee industry as we know it. Would you be interested in genetically engineered coffee? Genetic engineering has improved a few foods we commonly eat, such as seedless oranges and seedless grapes. Not everything scientifically altered bears the stigma as the hormone-infused chicken. As long as the genetic alterations are not harmful for consumption (other than to insects, of course), there could be some fascinating creations.

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