Science | November 6, 2017 11:07 am

This Fungus Could Forever Change How We Drink Our Coffee

Researchers in Colombia are battling to save the arabica bean from an agricultural plague.

coffee
(Getty Images)

Your morning cup of joe may be in jeopardy.

That’s because researchers are now locked in a battle with a disease that could potentially cripple or even wipe out Colombia’s massive coffee industry. ‘Coffee rust’ is caused by a fungus, and when it infects a tree  the leaves produce a brown, thin powder, causing the tree to not only lose its leaves, but its ability to produce beans at all. This could be devastating for Colombia, which is the third largest producer of coffee in the world. According to the BBClast year alone that country’s coffee exports were worth $2.4 billion.

In Colombia, this fungus zeroes in on the type of tree that produces the most flavorful beans, and that coffee lovers around the world prefer. BBC explains that there are two types of coffee plant: the “beauty” and the “beast.” “The beauty” is Coffea arabica. It sells well at international markets and is what made Colombian coffee famous. “The beast” is Coffea canephora, which is from a tougher tree that is cheaper to grow, but that is not as liked in terms of taste.

However, researchers are working on a way to combat the effect of coffee rust on Colombia’s coffee crop, by breeding new variations of coffee so that they inherit both the good taste and the more resilient tree. This new strain of coffee will still have other issues to face, however, like climate change and the fungus’s own evolution. So researchers have continued to increase the gene pool, to make it more difficult for the disease to break the new coffee tree’s resistance.

So next time you have a cup of Colombian coffee, don’t overlook how much effort went gone into getting that delicious flavor.