Bug within Beetle Triggering Coffee Crisis

Published By : 06 Aug 2015 | Published By : QYRESEARCH

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages around the world. Over half a billion of Americans spend almost 40 billion dollars every years to enjoy their daily refreshment of the black bitter liquid. Hence, ensuring undisrupted supply of coffee is not only a matter for the food industry but rather it concerns economic security. 

However, coffee has to combat with a rather viscous enemy, the coffee berry borer. This is an insect that way back in time was only limited to Africa, but has now spread across the world. Currently, the losses caused by these insects in the coffee industry accounts for US$500 million annually, and it is expected to rise with the expansion of the insect’s range. 

The success of the borer lies in its unique ability to resist the most effective toxins that a coffee plant produces, caffeine. While for humans caffeine is a stimulant, for other smaller organisms it can prove to be a very lethal neurotoxin, which allows plants to protect themselves from being consumed by insects and eventually killed. 

Many insects have the ability to metabolize caffeine with low concentrations. But, the borer seems to have culminated the ability to withstand neurotoxin levels that are normally considered lethal for insects. How the insects were able to accomplish this, however is not known yet. 

The answer does not lie in the bug but in the bacteria. An international team of researchers revealed last week that degradation of caffeine can be mediated by the beetle’s gut microbiota. There finding laid the path for discovery of treatment where the target is not the insect but the microbes it produces. For the purpose of the study, the group also collected specimens of berry borers from India, Indonesia, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Mexico, and Hawaii. All these regions are witnessing an increasing presence of the insects in coffee plants, owing to which they are also incurring loss in the coffee industry. 
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