GENET archive


2-Plants: Non-GE caffeine-free coffee bred in Brazil

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Grow a decaffeinated cuppa
SOURCE: Nature 429, UK, by Helen R. Pilcher
DATE:   24 Jun 2004

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Grow a decaffeinated cuppa

Brazilians discover bushes without the buzz.

Naturally caffeine-free coffee has been found growing on trees. Its
discoverers hope it will yield a cheap, flavoursome alternative to the
artificially decaffeinated coffee already on the market.

Brazilian researchers bred 3,000 Ethiopian coffee plants as part of a
programme to produce low-caffeine strains. They found three bushes, all
derived from the same plant, that were virtually caffeine free,
containing 15 times less stimulant than commercial strains. The discovery
is reported in this week's Nature1.

Caffeine-free coffee plants have been found before, growing wild in
Madagascar. But they yield inferior beans unsuited for coffee production.
The Brazilian shrubs belong to the species Coffea arabica, the most
cultivated and consumed coffee in the world.

"This is the first time anyone has found a decaffeinated version of
Coffea arabica," says Paulo Mazzafera from the State University of
Campinas, who co-discovered the plants. They are thought to lack the gene
for an enzyme that is required to make caffeine.

Full of beans

Over 10% of coffee consumed worldwide is decaffeinated, so demand for a
tasty, low-caffeine blend is high. Currently caffeine is stripped from
coffee using costly industrial processes. Organic solvents and carbon
dioxide are used to purge the caffeine from the beans, but they strip
away key flavour compounds at the same time. An alternative that does not
destroy so much of the taste is to sift out the caffeine with a carbon
filter, but this is even more expensive.

Mazzafera, who prefers a full-strength fix, hopes his discovery will help
those who find it physically difficult to tolerate caffeine. The chemical
can raise blood pressure, trigger palpitations and disrupt sleep.

The researchers do not yet know how their plants would fare as a
commercial crop. They have not been able to taste any coffee made from
the plants as these will take several years to mature. Their bushes also
grow around 30% more slowly than standard arabica plants, so the team
hopes to crossbreed them with their caffeine-rich relatives to produce a
fast-growing, caffeine-free variety.

But selective breeding like this can take ten years or more, giving
competitors a chance to edge in on the market. For example, a genetically
modified low-caffeine coffee plant is just a few years from maturity.

"The genetically modified route may well be more successful," says plant
scientist Alan Crozier of the University of Glasgow's Institute of
Biomedical and Life Sciences "It should be possible to produce a plant
that is completely caffeine free," he explains. Naturally bred species
can still contain trace amounts of the chemical. But those opposed to
genetically modified foods may find the Brazilian approach worth the wait.


1. Silvarolla, M. B., Mazzafera, P. & Fazuoli, L. C. . Nature, 429, 826,

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Ethiopians bask in discovery of decaf bean
SOURCE: South African Press Agency / German Press Agency
DATE:   26 Jun 2004 

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Ethiopians bask in discovery of decaf bean

Addis Ababa - Coffee-loving Ethiopians were beaming with pride on
Saturday with the news that a virtually caffeine-free coffee bean of a
high quality has been discovered growing wild in their country.

The discovery, made by a team of Brazilian scientists headed by plant
physiologist Paulo Mazzafera and reported in the latest issue of
scientific journal Nature, made headlines Saturday in the government
organ, The Ethiopian Herald.

Mazzafera, as cited by the Herald, said his team had discovered a
naturally decaffeinated coffee arabica plant, a species normally
recognised for the high quality of its beans.

He said the newly found wild plant produces a naturally decaffeinated
coffee bean, which he called a "unique product" for people who don't like
genetically modified organisms and but like the taste of coffee.

Previous discoveries of wild caffeine-free beans have been from lesser-
quality plants, unsuitable for commercial production. The Coffee arabica
species however is the most widely-cultivated coffee plant in the world.

About 10 percent of the coffee consumed around the world is processed to
remove caffeine, "a natural chemical linked with heart palpitations,
raised blood pressure, anxiety, tremors, gastrointestinal upset and
insomnia", according to Nature.

Removing the caffeine however also removes organic ingredients that
affect the taste and aroma of the coffee.

The three decaffeinated coffee plants discovered growing wild in Ethiopia
were said to look "no different" from normal arabica plants, but are are
thought to lack the gene for an enzyme that is required to make caffeine.

British and Japanese scientists were said to have been developing a
caffeine-free coffee plant through genetic manipulation.

 "But in the current anti-genetically modified climate, it was unlikely
that consumers would accept such a product," Mazzafera wrote in Nature.


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