Genetically Modified Coffee for better taste poses threat to the coffee industry and customers

Genetically Modified Coffee for better taste poses threat to the coffee industry and customers

January 27 - 2024

Coffee Geography Magazine

Derege L. Gemeda

Genetically Modified Coffee (GM Coffee) is under research in Italy where GM Crops are highly controversial. In the European Union, only one GM maize is currently cultivated while products derived from or containing GMOs are strictly controlled with a zero tolerance. 

Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods. Authorization is depending on a thorough risk assessment and on the availability of a validated method for detecting, identifying, and quantifying the GMO in food or feed. Biotech companies, who wish to bring their product to the market, need to submit an application for each GM launch. Part of the application dossier includes a very specific method of detection of each particular GMO. 

Recently, scientists have discovered the genetic secrets of coffee in which they say paves the way for more flavorsome brews. That means genetically modified coffee for a better taste. Researchers in Italy came up with the most complete genetic map of Arabica coffee,.

gmo coffee

The new insights into the plant's genetic make-up will bring in the breeding of new coffee crops. The most complete sequencing yet of the genome of Coffea arabica has revealed that the ‘letters’ in the DNA strands differ only slightly between varieties. 

“If you look at single nucleotide variations, the levels are anywhere from 10 to 100 times lower than any other species,” says Michele Morgante, a plant geneticist at the University of Udine, Italy, and an author of the study. 

Morgante and his team used next-generation sequencing technology that can read DNA strands up to hundreds of thousands of base pairs in length without interruption and with greater accuracy than earlier technologies. 

“With those type of technologies, it becomes much easier to assemble the genome and you can also assemble regions that were previously inaccessible,” says Morgante.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organism with genes that have been altered in a way not naturally occurring through breeding or mating. Typically their genome includes an "insert", a strand of DNA, often stemming from the genome of another species, which could not be crossed with the host species by natural breeding.

Food and feed made from or containing GMOs can only be allowed on the EU market once the GMOs have received authorization from the EU, following a procedure which includes a thorough risk assessment by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) based on a comprehensive authorization dossier provided by the applicant, i.e. the GMO developer/owner. 

"This tool may give us ways to provide coffee growers with better plants that appeal more to the consumers, and cope better with changing climatic conditions." Morgante added without worrying the legal hurdle with EFSA. 

Dr Aaron Davis of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said it was an "important step forward in our understanding of the genetic diversity of coffee which may help to guide the future development of this economically important and much-loved crop species."

Jeremy Torz, co-founder of the London-based coffee roasting business, Union Hand-roasted Coffee, said much of what we taste and enjoy about coffee is a result of the work of coffee farmers - and the science will help them develop plants that are well-suited to producing good coffee in a changing environment. 

"It's a reassurance that with the combination of good science and passionate farmers, the brew that we love will be around in a form that we know it for a lot longer," he said.

The EU policy on GMO respects the consumer's right-to-know by ensuring clear labeling and traceability of GMOs. This requires reliable methods for their detection, identification and quantification (for authorised GMO) in food, feed, and the environment. 

Coffee Geography Magazine is following the research of GM Coffee development as it has unknown risk to the natural environment which needs to be carefully addressed not only by scientific world but also the coffee industry which cares for the sustainable production of the coffee at the farm level.