Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gene Theft by Beetle Threatens Coffee

Coffee borer beetle and larvae in coffee berry.
The coffee berry borer beetle, only a few millimeters in size, has the ability to ruin an entire coffee crop. This beetle causes crop losses up to half a billion dollars, and as climates warm this destruction is only expected to rise. How can this beetle do cause this damage? The beetles lay their eggs inside of coffee berries, and the larvae emerge to only eat the coffee berries. However, these berries are made of complex carbohydrates which can be difficult to digest. Ricardo Acuña discovered that the coffee berry borer beetles have taken a gene, HhMAN1, and utilizes it to  digest the complex carbohydrate in the coffee berries.

The gene HhMAN1 is found in the beetle genome surrounded by transposons. The theory presented states that these "jumping genes" may have been brought in from bacterial DNA from the beetle's gut in the first place. This theory is further plausible because no other closely related beetle species have this HhMAN1 gene. The presence of this carbohydrate digesting gene allowed the beetle to move about the globe and bring coffee plant destruction with it. 

Understanding the genes that function in the beetle to allow for the destruction of coffee is key to managing for the invasive species. If we are able to hinder or alter the function of the gene in the beetles, causing them to be unable to digest the complex carbohydrate in the coffee berries, we could save millions of dollars in coffee crops and prevent the further spread of an invasive species. 


  1. I found this article very interesting as I was unaware that coffee came from a fruit. As many people use the term "coffee beans" I was surprised after reading this article and doing my own research that coffee is actually from a berry. Understanding how the beetles gut DNA allowed them to digest such difficult carbohydrates will be useful in understanding the appropriate action to rid the species.

  2. I also did not realize that coffee beans came from a fruit. However, it is amazing and also unfortunate how much of an impact a bug can have on crops. However, further research like this can prevent detrimental circumstance. Like every other crop, scientists have figured out a way to prevent this problem.

  3. Transposons are super interesting to me as how exactly does a "jumping gene" work and what is the purpose/function of it moving around?