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Unlocking the mysteries of coffee DNA

FOR SCIENCE

By Angela Garrity, Guest Blogger

Do we know exactly what is in our cups? Likely not, but a new method of analysis may do a lot of coffee genetic decoding that is helping everyone in the supply chain to learn. From producers all the way down to consumers, everyone is getting the results of the genetic fingerprint that makes up a cup.

Sprudge explains the cracking of the genetic code that is revealing the mysteries of coffee’s DNA.

“The issue lies in how coffee seeds and their varieties have, or more appropriately, have not been recorded over the centuries. Seed exchanges of yore were somewhat informal affairs, as coffee crops crossed country lines, hybridized in the wild, and morphed into completely new varieties altogether," the article reads. "All of this complicates cataloging efforts, and it’s an issue compounded by the demands of today’s coffee market, in which producers face a toxic cocktail of disease, climate change, and the onerous C market.”

This is where information benefits everyone.

The article states:

“In response, World Coffee Research has begun using a new-to-coffee method of analysis to test the genetic fingerprint of a sample revealing its true makeup. After assaying over 2,500 samples, they’ve published their initial findings in the Journal of AOAC International and the responses so far are very interesting.

For this new method, WCR researchers created a “DNA fingerprint” for each variety of Arabica coffee by looking at eight Single Sequence Repeater (SSR) markers in each plant’s genetic code. With that database, they tested 2,533 plant samples to analyze a variety’s genetic diversity as well as the “genetic conformity,” which is a way of asking, is the purported variety the actual variety? When assaying the 2,500 samples—22% from WCR’s own research population, 10% as part of a nursery verification, and 68% from anonymized samples provided by “individuals willing to check their own material”—they found that not all the varieties were what they seemed.”

You don’t say! The article continues:

“Per the study, this 'powerful new tool' for identifying Arabica coffee varieties will provide a host of benefits to the coffee industry. Beyond building consumer confidence, the 100% repeatable new identification allows farmers to more accurately plant varieties that are, say, disease- or climate-change-resistant, thus helping ensure the sustainability of coffee in the decades to come. It will also help “trace back the history of C. arabica breeding and of the movement of C. arabica varieties,” unpeeling some of the mystery behind the long, complicated road traveled by the coffee shrub.”

The power is truly hidden in the bean — read the entire article from Sprudge here.

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