illycaffè and Lavazza release DNA sequence of Arabica coffee

An illycaffè and Lavazza-led partnership has released the first full genome sequence for Coffea arabica, which aims to prepare the coffee industry for climate change and improve the quality of coffee available.

World Coffee Research has made the genome sequence publicly available here.

The sequence is the result of the Coffea arabica Genome Sequencing Project. illycaffe and Lavazza conducted the study with Istituto di Genomica Applicata, IGA Technology Services, DNA Analytica, and the universities of Trieste, Udine, Padova, and Verona. 

This genome sequence was derived from a Coffea arabica plant of the Red Bourbon variety. Fresh ripe coffee cherries were sourced from a coffee plantation in the Ahuachapan region of El Salvador and used as starting material for DNA extraction.

Coffea arabica[is] an [unusual] plant which has a duplicate set of chromosomes compared with other main cultivated species,” says Michele Morgante, Scientific Director of the Istituto di Genomica Applicata.

“One of the main difficulties was to distinguish between the sequences derived from the two progenitor genomes of Arabica, Coffea canephoraand Coffea eugenioides, which are extremely similar. To tackle this problem, we used a hierarchical sequencing approach, in which the genome is divided into relatively small portions before being reconstructed.”

Having a genome sequence available enables researchers to understand and target key agronomic traits that matter to farmers, such as resistance to disease, adaptation to the hotter, drier climates of the future, or adaptability to growth under shade.

“[The genome research is] an important step to support coffee growers around the world, who are already facing the damages of climate change,” says Andrea Illy, Chairman of illycaffè.

“The suitable land for Arabica coffee may be reduced by as much as half by 2050 due to climate change, at the same time as global demand is expected to nearly double. Research and innovation is one of the most important ways to fight this threat. Making the research results available to everyone is the right thing to do and will maximise the impact of the global effort to make coffee more sustainable.”

Coffea arabica is one of two species in the Coffeafamily consumed globally. It represents more than 60 per cent of coffee production in the world.

“Advanced genetics research is essential to coffee’s future as a sustainable crop, and to exploring the thrilling diversity of flavours found in coffee,” says Tim Schilling, CEO and founder of World Coffee Research.

“Having access to a whole sequenced genome is an essential precursor to unlocking the potential of genetics research to transform coffee production.”

Tools to enable browsing of the genome will be released in the weeks ahead.

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