No more secrets with coffee

Consortium will be sequencing this plant's genome

After the sequencing of the genes of Xylella fastidiosa, which attacks the orange orchards, and of the sugar cane genome, it is the turn of the genetic code of coffee Arabica to be deciphered. A consortium made up of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and FAPESP, under the auspices of the Technological Innovation Program (PITE), is implementing the Coffee Genome EST Project, which is going to produce 200,000 sequence of coffee genes.

The task of sequencing the genes will be divided between FAPESP’s Agronomic and Environmental Genome (AEG) Program and Embrapa’s National Center of Genetic Resources. The clones sequenced by each one of the partners will held at the respective institutions and interchanged at the end of the project. The Coffee Genome-EST project has an estimated budget R$ 1.92 million, which will be divided between Embrapa and FAPESP. FAPESP is pitching in with R$ 480,000. The time limit forecast for the project to be carried out is 12 months, but in the assessment of Luiz Eduardo Aranha Camargo, from the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture, in Piracicaba, it should be ready in four months.

The 200,000 sequences generated will be deposited with the Database of the Bio-Information Technology Laboratory (LBI) of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), and they will remain at the disposal of the interested parties for consultation, according to Aranha Camargo. Other public and private sector institutions, besides the institutions taking part in the consortium, will have access to the database. “Functional analysis will depend on the interest and on the areas of investigation of each institution or researcher”, explains Aranha Camargo, mentioning as an example the Agronomic Institutes of Campinas and of Paraná and the Federal Universities of Lavra, Viçosa and Uberlândia, in Minas Gerais. The request for access to the database will involve the sigNature of a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

The consortium provides for Embrapa and FAPESP splitting the ownership of any patent that may come to be generated by the project. The costs for obtaining and maintaining patents will be proportional to the rights to royalties, in the following percentages: Embrapa will keep 30%, Cenargen, with 20%, FAPESP, with 20%, and the institution to which the inventor belongs, 30%.

Quality of the beverage
Coffee is the third most significant agricultural product of São Paulo, behind oranges and sugar cane. And it is fifth on Brazil’s list of exports, after soya, meat, pulp and paper, and sugar. This year, Brazil’s production of coffee should amount to 26.7 million bags, 14% less than in the previous harvest. Over recent years, diseases like the rust, a fungus that attacks the leaves, and the nematode, a worm that eats away the roots, have jeopardized the productivity of the coffee plantations and brought about a reduction in investments.

The initiative for this research came from the Brazilian Consortium for Coffee Research and Development, which puts together producers from all the regions of the country. In a second stage of research, the objective is to assess the resistance of the plant to diseases. The expectation is that the functional analysis of the coffee genome will also make it possible to improve the quality of the beverage.