Caffeine Evolution

photoThis week, we learned from scientists at the University of Buffalo that caffeine evolved independently in coffee plants, meaning it didn’t likely share a caffeine-producing common ancestor with tea or chocolate plants. A miracle like caffeine evolving more than once, how’d we get so lucky?!

Researchers mapped the genome of Coffee canephora and found that genes coding for caffeine-building enzymes were more closely related to other genes within the same genome then to similar genes in other species that also produce caffeine.

Caffeine is a type of chemical compound made by plants that is often thought to protect the plant from munching herbivores. As far as defenses go however, this one seems to also be a brilliant offense since nearly 9 million tons of coffee were produced last year thanks to human agriculture around the world. It really begs the question, are we cultivating coffee or is coffee cultivating us? 

I’ll have to contemplate that one as I start this Monday morning with with a warm cup…


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