Coffee has long been one of the most widely grown and high demand crops in the world, but unlike corn, soy, and other top food crops, consumers haven’t to worry about whether it was GMO or not.
That could all change soon, however, as scientists announced that they’ve officially been able to sequence the coffee genome for the first time, a discovery that could lead the way to a genetically modified coffee variety.
The particular plant variety that has been sequenced is the robusta variety of coffee bean, which makes up about 33% of the coffee consumed across the world according to this report from the Washington Post.
Considering the highly profitable nature of coffee and its status as one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world, it would not be surprising to see new GMO coffee varieties being developed soon.
New Coffee Breeding Techniques?
The researchers reportedly found that coffee and caffeine were once separate from each other by comparing coffee genes to chocolate, and also found that the plants developed enzymes in order to make the energizing compound.
While they’re not quite sure why this occurred, they are intrigued by the potential to modify coffee in new and different ways.
For example decaf coffee is popular, and now some scientists believe that it may be possible to genetically modify coffee beans to not produce caffeine at all. The current process for decaf involves the physical extraction of caffeine within the coffee.
The scientists also believe they may be able to produce disease-resistant genes which theoretically would allow the plants to ward off harmful invaders and to survive better.
The scientists are also working on sequencing arabica coffee, which is a hybrid type of plant that is considered to be a duplicated genome that has much more information to decipher.
Do the People Really Want GMO Coffee?
Despite the novel ways in which coffee could be produced, the sequencing of the coffee genome is yet another clear illustration of how GMOs and the companies that produce them limit choice.
Currently the major GMO crops on the market in the U.S. include soy, corn, canola, sugar beets, and cotton along with a few others, but if more research continues and more profit is up for grabs, the people of the world will have even less choice in the near future.
Rice, tomatoes, and potatoes have all been genetically modified in the past and may make a comeback (even though virtually all of these products are not GMO currently; rice is at risk for contamination though and consumers are left in the dark about whether it may have GMO material), and other GM varieties in development include favorite crops like bananas and wheat.
Plus, cross contamination of natural crops is rampant, and organic farmers are the ones paying the price as this article notes.
So, will the world accept GMO coffee? That remains to be seen, but there’s likely to be a major push in the near future because of all the profit that can be made off of uninformed consumers (that’s where labeling becomes so important, of course). Stay tuned.
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