World Coffee Research (WCR) late last week announced the launch of a publicly available database designed to make genetic fingerprinting of arabica coffee varieties more accessible.
The database is freely accessible to private and public labs for coffee variety verification using “SNP markers,” molecular genetic markers that can be analyzed more quickly and at a lower cost than other genetic markers, according to the nonprofit group.
“One of the database’s most important applications is the development of low-cost variety authentication to support coffee’s evolving seed sector,” United States-based WCR said in the announcement. “Similar tools are used widely in other crops by seed producers, seed traders and food manufacturers but until now, these tools have been too expensive or impractical to use for coffee on a wide scale.”
According to WCR, the coffee sector is in need of such fingerprinting solutions because variety verication as a quality control tool is often lacking, meaning some commercial coffee varieties may be unidentified or misidentified by producers, or downstream supply chain actors.
Studies backed by WCR serve as proof of this “genetic noncomformity.” One study found that among 88 samples identified as the famous Gesha variety (often written as “Geisha”), only 39% conformed, according to genetic fingerprint testing.
Genetic nonconformity may have dire consequences for farmers, as well. WCR offered an example in which a farmer might plant a supposedly disease-resistant variety that ultimately turns out to be genetically nonconforming and more susceptible to debilitating infections.
The group also offered an example of how such a tool may be used at scale, citing El Salvador‘s ambitious sector-wide plans to distribute more than 150 million coffee plants over the next decade, with the goal of generating more than 18 million bags of exportable green coffee.
Said WCR, “This SNP panel is being used to validate the authenticity of the trees it plans to distribute to farmers, in order to ensure they are the high-performing varieties selected to meet the country’s ambitious production goals.”
More on the SNP database, including a free download, is available here.
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