When two coffee plants love each other …
This new research has given that old story much more context, at least within the world of coffee.
It seems that all species of Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) date back to the same plant, a “super parent” that arose from a speciation event between two other species of coffee, canéfora – also known as robusta – and eugenioides.
That fortuitous event, a beautiful and spontaneous union, took place between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to the new study, which resulted from a broad collaboration between representatives of World Coffee Research, the Instituto di Genomica Applicata (Italy), universities in Italy, Yemen and the United States, among others. The research appears in Nature: Scientific Reports.
“This means that a single plant, a super individual, gave rise to all the species of C. arabica and the millions of trees that are grown today around the orb in the Ring of Fire, ”study co-author and coffee breeder Benoit Bertrand of CIRAD said in an announcement for the publication released by the WCR.
While generally fascinating, it is also bad news for the coffee industry, as the study suggests that arabica coffee is the world’s least genetically diverse species of main crop.
“Researchers have long known that the genetic diversity of Arabica coffee is low,” said Jennifer Vern Long, WCR CEO, in her statement. – This research offers clear and definitive evidence that diversity is even lower than we thought. This is quite worrying for a crop as important as coffee. It reveals a deep vulnerability for any business that depends on it. “
In fact, it was just a year ago when a different research project demonstrated as part of its results that wild varieties of arabica were within the classification of threatened species. Both research projects, and the organizations behind them, reinforce the idea that growing arabica coffee is a fragile long-term prospect given the species’ sensitivity to pests, weather conditions and other natural factors.
While the researchers in this latest study strongly promote future research and support related to cultivation, particularly with the development and spread of what is known as F1 hybrids, they were also able to draw the fascinating history of coffee’s genetic past. .
Arabica coffee is known to have spread from the highland regions of Ethiopia to Yemen in the 14th century, where it was first grown within a sun growing system. According to the WCR and the study authors, previous research has identified two main groups within the Arabica species: the Bourbon and typical varieties that arrived in Yemen, and, with the passage of time, the rest of the producing regions of the world; and the wild varieties that still remain in Ethiopia.
However, this study separates the arabica into three groups, in addition to speculating on the existence of a possible fourth. These are 1) domesticated varieties of Arabica in Yemen; 2) wild varieties of southwestern Ethiopia; 3) a separate and little-known group of Ethiopian varieties from the wild forests that originated around Sheka, also in south-western Ethiopia.
“The authors consider that a fourth group may also exist located near the Harenna forest, east of the Rift Valley shore, however; there were not enough individuals in the Harenna forest among the populations from which samples were taken to verify this, ”said the WCR.
The authors who led the study are molecular breeders Lucile Toniutti of the WCR and Simone Scalabrin of the research center of the IGA Technology Services company. The research was sponsored by industry giants Illycafé and Lavazza.
This note was originally published in English. It has been translated by Roast Magazine.
Nick Brown is the editor of the Daily Coffee News for Roast Magazine.