Whilst sourcing news for AgBiotechNet I came across a story about the genetic modification of coffee – I read on, intrigued. 

Why on earth would you want genetically modify coffee? Well, the problem is the relatively poor quality of decaf compared to that of fully leaded. During the traditional process of chemical decaffeination a large part of the aroma is lost thus leading to a reduction in overall quality. However, by genetically modifying the caffeine biosynthesis pathway a ‘naturally decaffeinated ‘ coffee is produced with no lost aromas.

Now the worldwide market for decaf coffee is big and the consumers are varied. In Shlonsky et al.’s 2003 paper on traits of people who drink decaf, they found that some people drink decaf because they have health problems whilst others drink decaf as they want a healthier lifestyle. So if health is the main issue then could these people be convinced to drink GM coffee? After all the biofortification of crops for use in developing countries have been welcomed for the health benefits they convey…

I’m already fairly bemused by the choices when it comes to coffee – caffeinated, decaffeinated, half-caf (what’s that all about???), shade-grown, organic, fair-trade – but would I buy GM? Well if it meant less chemicals were involved then I might well consider it (the future of GM decaf is further discussed by Ogita, 2005). And the genetic modification doesn’t end there – coffee has also been transformed with genes for resistance to insects, nematodes and herbicides – not to forget the control of fruit maturation to ease harvesting (see Ribas et al., 2006 for further information).

Well, these are just a few thoughts for you ponder over your morning coffee – I welcome your response!

Traits of persons who drink decaffeinated coffee.
Shlonsky, A. K. ;  Klatsky, A. L. ;  Armstrong, M. A. ; Annals of Epidemiology  , 2003  , 13  ,, 273-279  , 27 ref.

Genetic transformation of coffee.
Ribas, A. F. ;  Pereira, L. F. P. ;  Vieira, L. G. E. ; Brazilian Journal of Plant Physiology  , 2006  , 18  ,, 83-94  , many ref.

The prospects for the future of GM decaf coffee plants.
Ogita, S. ; Regulation of Plant Growth & Development  , 2005  , 40  ,, 106-107  , 5 ref.

1 Comment

  1. Ron on 30th June 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Organic coffee is naturall low in caffiene. Some the tests for Mexican coffee came very close to levels in chemically decaffeinated coffee. Altitud where the coffee is grown has long been known to effect quality. As altitud increases caffiene and several other toxins are reduced and aromatic qualities increase.
    This is another example of how traditional selection and agroecological control would probably be a much more stable, economical and safer way of treating this problem.
    I stick with my high-grown organic, non-decaffeinated, thank you.

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