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Agricultural bio-technology.

Agricultural Bio-Technology

Commercial Biogenetic Technology, barely 10 years old, is approaching a billion dollar year in annual sales for pharmaceuticals and medications to improve human health. Laboratory grown human insulin for diabetics is replacing a similar agent from cows and pigs. Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA) is saving thousands of lives in cases of sudden heart attacks. Anemia and Aids Sufferers are relieved by newer gene spliced F.D.A. approved products.

Agricultural Biogenetic materials are much slower in arriving, but has a market potential 100 times greater than these and other curative pharmaceutical agents. Potentially, it has wide application for both tea and coffee crops. Over the horizon, lie immense possibilities for greater flavor content in both, increased yield, lower production costs and specialty products. Caffeine-free growths eliminating necessity for solvent extraction, could provide decaffeinated varieties at about the same price as regular products. Development of insect and fungus resistant specie could exclude the need for toxic pesticides. This is a discussion of some of the current developments by companies in other agricultural areas, and how this discipline could apply to coffee and tea crops.

Technical progress in agricultural biotechnology has been much speedier than commercial applications. In 1981, leading companies in this field did not have the technique for performing gene transfers in plants. Today it has been accomplished in a variety of vegetation including vegetable crops, tobacco, potatoes, cotton, etc. Intensive work is being performed to introduce new genes, reliably, into major grain crops like corn and wheat and should be successful during the next decade.

Substantial progress has been made in these areas, but payoff has been much slower than anticipated. Promising areas that are extensively pursued include:

1. Genetically altered seeds, producing crops that would resist herbicides, disease, fungi and insects. Products like these would probably be the first applications approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and E.P.A. Herbacide resistance would allow weed killers to be sprayed liberally on the soil without harming the desired crop. This could be valuable for both tea and coffee. Already petunia genes have been engineered into tomato seeds, soybeans, cotton seeds and canola (rape seeds) so that a broad spectrum herbicide can be liberally sprayed on these fields, thus yielding a larger crop at lower costs.

2. Biopesticides based on genetically modified microorganisms. These would kill insects and harmful microbes and have broad potential for all plantations.

3. Better tasting and more nutritious vegetables are close to commercialization. Calgene Corporation, for example, is developing a tomato that will not soften readily. This permits them to ripen on the vine, producing a more natural flavor. DNA Plant Technology Company, using cell culture, has developed Vegisnax--crisper carrots and celery which will soon be marketed in snack size packages.

4. A gene altered hormone, practically identical with the one naturally present in milk, may soon be approved. It increases milk production 10 to 25 percent. Some dairymen object on economic grounds, maintaining too much milk would lower prices.

5. Crops Genetics, Inc. has received permission from EPA and the Dept. of Agriculture for field trials of genetically engineered vaccine for corn.

6. Escagen Company has developed procedures for transplanting and recovering vanilla flavoring from plants. Other natural flavors are also possible.

For coffee, one initial field for pursuit might be the identification of the aroma precursor gene or genes present in Arabica but largely absent in the Robusta variety. Once identified, it could be incorporated into the African product. This would increase the value of this crop and offer roasters a valuable addition to blends.

Another possibility would be to isolate the gene controlling percentage of solubles. This gene is present to a greater extent in Africans than in Milds of Brazilians. Transplanting this gene to Arabica varieties could increase yields in instant coffees.

Emphasizing this gene in Robustas could conceivably increase yields in all varieties and enhance economics of soluble production.

Identification of the caffeine producing gene, in addition to growing caffeine-free coffee, could lead to cultivation of a double strength caffeine crop. Combined with greater aroma genes, this could lead to a highly satisfactory beverage at 100 cups per pound with equal stimulation and flavor as the present 50 cups per pound.

All types of specialty coffees could become possible with gene splicing. New flavors present unlimited potential. Nutritious coffees could be grown with established vitamin content. Specialty coffees could come from new blends.

Some or all of these develpments will undoubtedly arive during the next century. Biogenetic technology is too large and expensive a discipline to be pursued by the individual grower. Governmental agricultural department, universities and commercial companies should be encouraged to devote more attention to the needs of this industry.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Coffee Break; impact of technological innovations on coffee and tea flavor, production costs and specialty products
Author:Lee, Samuel
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Battling the decline in hot beverages.
Next Article:Japan's coffee market knows no limit.

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