Coffee, the staple drink of millions worldwide, has had its secrets unravelled. The genome of the high quality coffee species Coffea arabica has recently been sequenced and is available online for public viewing. This research will allow scientists to analyse the functional genomics and identify genes involved in metabolic pathways and disease resistance.
The sequence was published by University of California in a region where coffee cultivation is a rapidly growing trade. RNA and DNA samples were collected from trees and analysed to reveal a genome of 1.19 billion base pairs, about one third of the size of the human genome. With further analysis, it is hoped that the functions of each gene will be identified and the metabolic pathways involved in producing the unique flavours of coffee will be understood and, as climate change alters the environment and plants are forced to change in order to survive, athorough analysis of their genome could lead to a better understanding of how they adapt. What’s more, diseases such as coffee leaf rust are major challenges to farmers, so identifying genes involved in disease-resistance is a focal point for further research.
This is not the first coffee plant to have its genome deconstructed. The genome of a related species C. canephora – used to make instant coffee – was sequenced in 2014, but it was genetically less complex than the Arabica variety. C. arabica is a tetraploid species, meaning it has four sets of chromosomes rather than the standard two, a result of a hybridisation event between C. canephora and the closely related C. eugenioides.
This further leap in our understanding of coffee genomics is sure to open up a range of possibilities: flavour, disease-resistance and climate-adaptability. So, if you want to see the jumble of A,T,C and G’s of what it is you’re drinking, check out Phytozome.net for the genome copy.