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Coffee plants can be genetically modified to produce coffee with reduced caffeine content, according to a new study.

At present, decaffeinated coffee — which does not cause the rise in blood pressure and palpitations that can be triggered by full-strength coffee — is produced via expensive industrial processes that can compromise flavour.

But now scientists from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan have used genetic engineering to reduce the activity of caffeine-making genes in coffee plants, cutting their caffeine content by up to 70 per cent.

As well as potentially reducing the cost and improving the taste of decaffeinated coffee, the research has other benefits, the scientists say. "Our method not only shortens the breeding period, which is more than 25 years for conventional crossing, but also opens the way to develop new species of coffee plant," they write in the journal Nature.

Most of the world's coffee is grown in developing countries, primarily in Latin America and Africa.

Link to paper in Nature

Reference: Nature 423, 823 (2003)

© SciDev.Net 2003

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