Coffee Genome Adapted to Climate Changes Over Millennia

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Coffee, the fuel that keeps the world running, comes from a plant called Coffea arabica. Scientists at the University of Buffalo (UB) have created an incredibly detailed map of the DNA of Arabica coffee, which acts as a blueprint for the plant, revealing its complex ancestry. Arabica coffee is not the product of a single, isolated lineage but rather the result of a natural hybridization event between two different coffee species: Coffea canephora (commonly known as Robusta) and Coffea eugenioides. This unusual event, called allopolyploidization, allowed the two parent species to contribute their full sets of chromosomes, resulting in Arabica inheriting a double set of genetic instructions.

The story of Arabica coffee becomes even more intriguing when considering how it came to be. The merging of two coffee species wasn’t the result of human manipulation in a laboratory or on a carefully controlled plantation. Instead, it was an entirely natural event that unfolded within the lush forests of Ethiopia. Advanced computer modeling allowed scientists to look back through time, pinpointing the birthplace of this unique coffee species. Their findings suggest that this extraordinary hybridization event occurred an astonishing 600,000 to a million years ago.

A detailed understanding of the origins and breeding history of contemporary varieties are crucial to developing new Arabica cultivars better adapted to climate change. Earth’s climate has fluctuated significantly over the past millennia, experiencing periods of intense glaciation followed by warmer, wetter phases. Scientists studying the Arabica genome were able to trace how these climate shifts impacted the coffee plant populations. Their findings revealed a fascinating correlation between climate and Arabica’s abundance.

Coffee plants share an ancestral bond with Eastern Africa, specifically an expansive geological formation known as the Great Rift Valley. This region has served as a natural cradle for coffee’s evolution. Interestingly, scientists have observed a distinct geographical divide between the wild coffee plants of the region and the specific varieties that humans have cultivated for our beloved beverages. The cultivated coffee varieties that dominate global production all trace their origins to the eastern side of the Great Rift Valley, the region closer to Yemen. This geographical pattern provides strong support for the historical understanding that Yemen played a pivotal role in the initial domestication of coffee sometime around the 15th century.

Despite its immense popularity, Arabica coffee faces significant threats. Centuries of selective breeding practices have led to a limited genetic diversity within Arabica populations, leaving the species highly susceptible to devastating pests and diseases, such as the notorious coffee leaf rust. Additionally, the ongoing impacts of climate change, including unpredictable weather patterns and rising temperatures, pose additional challenges to the survival and productivity of Arabica coffee plants.

The recent mapping of the Arabica genome offers a glimmer of hope for developing strategies to safeguard the future of Arabica coffee production and providing a roadmap for researchers seeking ways to breed more resilient coffee varieties.

Read More @ earth.com

Source: Coffee Talk

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