Arabica coffee genome is sequenced

Best coffee Arabica genome sequenced

Farmer Jay Ruskey, left, and UC Davis researcher Juan Medrano, right, look at coffee cherries at Good Land Organics in Goleta, California. Pic Courtesy UCDavis

Researchers at University of California, Davis (UCDavis)have fully sequenced the Coffea Arabica genome and made the sequence public. Coffea Arabica represents about 70% of global coffee production with the balance of around 30% made up of Coffea Canephora, or Robusta. Arabica beans produce much higher quality beans than Robusta, although it is harder to grow.

Improve coffee quality, yield and disease resistance

The geneticists at UCDavis expect that the ability to read the information that is encoded in coffee plants’ DNA will allow them to create breeding programmes to improve coffee’s disease resistance, drought resistance, crop yield and quality. Arabica coffee is a notoriously delicate plant, difficult to grow and very expensive, in comparison to it’s tougher, higher yielding cousin, Robusta. Researchers will be looking at ways to prevent coffee growers from losing their crops in bad years and to improve yield and quality. They are also very interested in why some of the best coffee beans only grow in on the highest hilltops, on the most uneven ground and in the most inaccessible places. Improvements like this can be made without genetic modification, but simply by selective breeding.

First American Coffee Growers

The research was funded by Japanese drinks giant Suntory and it coincides with the start of a coffee planting programme in California, which is the first serious attempt to grow coffee commercially in the mainland United States. So far, about a dozen or so farms have planted coffee bushes in the shelter of old avocado orchards between Santa Barbara and San Diego. UCDavis is keen to promote this nascent industry and is working closely with some of the growers in the region.