What makes coffee full of beans?

Rio de Janeiro - The genetic makeup of arabica coffee has been deciphered for the first time by Brazilian researchers with the hopes of making a better cup o' joe and cementing Brazil's place as the largest coffee producer in the world.

A new database with about 200 000 DNA sequences will give scientists a deep understanding of what makes coffee tick, said a spokesperson for the Brazilian Coffee Research and Development Association.

The two years of research was aimed at helping Brazil produce more productive types of coffee as well as a "super-coffee" of higher quality.

Consumers aim to benefit as well with more substantial coffees that could appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

Farmers won't be left out in the cold, either, with researchers seeking ways to produce beans that are more resistent to disease, insects and harsh weather.

The official announcement of the mapping of coffee's DNA is to be given in the coming weeks in Brasilia by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose country produces about a third of the world's coffee.

The mapping was done by scientists at the Sao Paulo state research foundation and the federal government's Agricultural Research Agency with financing from the Coffee Research and Development Association.

Jose Fernando Perez with the Sao Paulo foundation said Brazilian scientists have much experience in mapping plant genomes, adding that it is now important for them to turn their attention to plants that play an important role in Brazilian agriculture.

"We have already done that with sugercane and eucalyptus, and now it's time for coffee," he said.

The institutions involved said the coffee research has so far cost about six million real (about R14-million) but experts said its potential payoff would be far higher, estimating that genetic changes to coffee plants would save at least one billion real (about R2,3-billion) a year through higher productivity and the use of fewer herbicides and pesticides.

It also would help the overall economy of Brazil, where coffee accounts for two percent of exports and seven million jobs.

Although the DNA mapping is a breakthrough, researchers know that their "hardest work" lies before them, Perez said. They must isolate individual genes and identify their functions, and that work was expected to take many years, he said. - Sapa-dpa


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