Researchers have mapped the genome for Arabica coffee in an effort to unlock its delicious secrets and protect it against disease and climate change in the future. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: It's one of the most valuable agricultural commodities in the world and yet scientists know surprisingly little about coffee. SOUNDBITE (English) JUAN MEDRANO, PROFESSOR OF ANIMAL GENOMICS, UC DAVIS, SAYING: "When we started looking at coffee we started to realize that it is kind of like an orphan crop. Very little has been done in introducing advance genetic technology to improve coffee." But now the secrets behind what makes an espresso so tasty are starting to be revealed. Scientists in California have mapped the genome for Arabica coffee, the species that accounts for 70 percent of global consumption. SOUNDBITE (English) JUAN MEDRANO, PROFESSOR OF ANIMAL GENOMICS, UC DAVIS, SAYING: "DNA is the book of life. So if we can understand the genes that are involved in relation to different traits, related to production, related to quality, related to adaptation, that adds value to our knowledge." Knowledge that will help protect coffee plants against climate change and disease. Genetic secrets could also allow farms like Jay Ruskey's in Southern California to thrive outside the tropical zone where most coffee production is currently located. SOUNDBITE (English) JAY RUSKEY, FARMER AND OWNER OF GOOD LAND ORGANICS, SAYING: "I think coffee has the potential to be a growing industry in California and I think if all things work correctly, we could make southern California a specialty coffee capital of the world." To do this Ruskey needs to know how best to breed his plants, allowing them to adapt to a different climate. All this information exists in the coffee plant's genetic make-up. SOUNDBITE (English) JAY RUSKEY, FARMER AND OWNER OF GOOD LAND ORGANICS, SAYING: "The advantage of being in California is that we can actually provide it (coffee plant) with exactly the water and even nutrition requirements with irrigation. We can provide it when it wants it and how much it wants it. And we can do it in a dry climate so we can avoid diseases that are traditional in the moist humid coffee climates." Deciphering coffee's genetics is even more important for traditional farms in the tropics where pests and disease are a serious threat. SOUNDBITE (English) JUAN MEDRANO, PROFESSOR OF ANIMAL GENOMICS, UC DAVIS, SAYING: "You can control pests and disease with chemicals, but the most sustainable and positive was to do it would be by breeding, by breeding disease resistant into the crop and preventing those problems." And to breed properly, farmers need as much information about their crops as possible. The scientists say the more we learn about coffee's genes the better our chances of protecting it against a changing climate - making sure we all have that perfect cup of coffee for many years to come.