BOB HIRSHON (host):
Coffee’s beetle battle. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
The next time you pour yourself a cup of Joe to start your day, consider this: the coffee plant actually produces caffeine as a toxin to ward off hungry pests. But the tiny coffee berry borer beetle has evolved to withstand caffeine’s jolt.
JAVIER CEJA-NAVARRO (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory):
The insect is living its whole life surrounded by caffeine. While feeding on the coffee seed, it would expose itself to the same amount that a human will consume when drinking 500 shots of espresso. And that amount will definitely kill any human.
That’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Javier Ceja-Navarro. His team has discovered the insect’s secret: a handful of gut microbes that break down caffeine, rendering it harmless. Studying how they do it could one day help control the pest, which causes $500 million dollars in crop losses every year. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.
Story by Susanne Bard