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TITLE:  Genetically Modified Decaffeinated Coffee Plants Produced
SOURCE: Reuters, by Patricia Reaney
DATE:   June 19, 2003

--------------------- archive: www.gene.ch/genet.html --------------------


Genetically Modified Decaffeinated Coffee Plants Produced

LONDON - If you crave the taste of coffee but can't handle caffeine because
it makes you jittery or keeps you awake at night, Japanese scientists may
have the answer.

Researchers at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan have
produced genetically modified coffee plants they say have less caffeine but
taste just as good as the real thing.

"The caffeine content of these plants is reduced by up to 70 percent,
indicating that it should be feasible to produce coffee beans that are
intrinsically deficient in caffeine," Shinjiro Ogita said in a report in the science
journal Nature Wednesday.

The transgenic plants produced by Ogita and his team, which has been working
on the research for seven years, are about a year old but it will take four
to five more years before the team knows the amount of caffeine in the bean.

Levels of caffeine depends on the type of coffee, how it is brewed and the
strength of the brew. Roast and ground coffee usually have more caffeine than
instant. Robusta coffees have about twice as much caffeine as arabicas, the
most popular brew.

Roger Cook, of the British Coffee Association, described Ogita's research as
extremely interesting but at an early stage.

"Any such developments are unlikely to be commercially viable for many years
to come," he told Reuters.

Instead of elaborate and expensive industrial processes to decaffeinate
coffee, which can result in poor flavor, Ogita and his colleagues used a
technique called RNA interference to silence a gene involved in caffeine synthesis in
the plants.

"Current methods include decaffeination by chemical extraction, which
removes not only caffeine but also other aromatic compounds, resulting in tasteless
products. The GM method overcomes this disadvantage by only reducing the
caffeine level," Ogita said in an Internet interview.

Seedlings from the decaffeinated plants, which measure about 6 inches, had
50 percent to 70 percent-less caffeine than the other plants.

"We are now applying this RNAi-based technique to C. arabica, which produces
high-quality Arabica coffee and accounts for roughly 70 percent of the world
market," Ogita said.

Ogita and his colleagues said their method shortened the breeding process
and could help open up ways to develop new species of coffee plants.



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