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Time for coffee

Researchers conclude first stage of sequencing the plant's genome

MIGUEL BOYAYANThe time for coffee has come. The agribusiness with a turnover of US$ 91 billion a year in the whole world – R$ 10 billion in Brazil alone – and accounts for 2% of its exports, has had part of its sequencing concluded. The objective of the work is to contribute towards expanding the sector’s productivity, with plants that are more resistant to disease and beans with a better quality. The project is a joint investment by FAPESP and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa Coffee), which began in 2003 and has just had its first stage concluded.

The work, carried out by the groups connected with FAPESP’s Agronomic and Environmental Genome (AEG) and Embrapa’s National Genetic Resources Center (Cenargen), generated 155,000 gene sequences. “There are practically 25,000 genes with a great potential”, says scientist Carlos Colombo, the Coffee Genome coordinator in São Paulo and a researcher with the Campinas Agronomic Institute. For the time being, the 100,000 sequences generated in São Paulo and the 55,000 done by Embrapa researchers are in separate databases. The next step for the project will be to unite all this information in a single place.

The database built up by the Brazilian researchers is the result of the sequencing of several libraries of DNA, that is, sequences of DNA corresponding to the genes expressed in the various tissues of the plant (leaves, roots, fruit, flowers and healthy branches and submitted to biotic and abiotic stresses, pests, diseases, cold, heat, and drought) at several stages of development. The coffee genome scientific team opted for the sequencing of Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs), where only the genes expressed by the organism are sequenced.

“We are now going to invite those interested in taking part in the stage of the functional analysis of the sequences generated”, Colombo said. According to the researcher, the scientists from São Paulo should meet before the end of May to discuss the results of the sequencing and to prepare the next researches that are to be developed in the following stages. Coffee is one of the main products of São Paulo agriculture, along with oranges and sugarcane.

According to the data supplied by Embrapa, the area covered by coffee in the country today occupies 2.7 million hectares, with roughly 6 billion trees, with a presence in over 2,000 municipalities in 16 Brazilian states, from Paraná to Amapá, which makes possible a diversified spatial arrangement of production. The coffee crop also has great importance in terms of generating employment in Brazil: it employs 8 million persons.