Caffeine: In the news

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 9:15 am

Modern genetic research has already raised the possibility that gene-altered plants could be crafted to make decaffeinated beans. In 2000, an international team of scientists published their successful cloning of a gene responsible for caffeine in tea. The gene, TCS1, is the blueprint for the enzyme that controls the final two steps in the tea plant’s four-step synthesis of caffeine. Another gene in coffee had been announced and patented earlier that year. Both tea and coffee plants use the same enzymatic steps for creating caffeine. The two genes characterized so far are for different steps in making caffeine.

To back up their findings, the TCS1 researchers inserted the DNA sequence into the genes of a bacteria. When supplied with the precursors to caffeine, only the engineered bacteria produced caffeine.

One potential problem is that plants with the key gene inactivated might build up appreciable amounts of the xanthine precursors to caffeine. These would have to be tested to ensure that they are not themselves able to mimic caffeine’s effects on the body.

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