Coffee genome sequencing could yield decaf coffee beans

Friday, 19 September, 2014

Decaffeinated coffee often presents health-conscious consumers with a conundrum: whether it’s worse to consume the caffeine or drink a product that’s been heavily (and sometimes questionably) processed.

Happily, University of Queensland (UQ) researchers are on the case. By analysing the coffee genome, they’ve found that it could soon be possible to grow premium-quality, caffeine-free coffee, tea and cocoa.

“It should soon be possible to select and grow coffee with a predetermined level of caffeine - ranging from zero-caf to jumpstart,” said Professor Robert Henry of UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI).

“Helping Queensland producers to grow export-quality coffee destined for high-value niche markets is our ultimate goal.

“Potentially, Queensland could develop a multimillion-dollar market for high-quality, premium coffees, ranging from full strength to decaffeinated.”

According to QAAFI flavour scientist Dr Heather Smyth, avoiding the decaffeinating process would ensure decaffeinated coffee beans retain the full coffee flavour.

Interestingly, the researchers found that coffee, cacao and tea plants independently evolved to produce caffeine.

“We think caffeine offers plants several advantages, including insecticidal properties and an inhibitory function that prevents seed germination in competing species,” said Professor Henry.

“Our new understanding of the evolutionary origins of caffeine is destined to give us the high-precision tools we need to regulate how caffeine is expressed in a single bean.”

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