When did Arabica coffee first appear on Earth?

Arabica is the most common coffee variety, currently accounting for about 60% of the world's supply. The plant is called Coffea arabica and is grown in tropical regions almost all over the world. But how, where and when did it first arise? Currently, modern technologies, such as genomic modeling based on the results of sequencing (decoding) the plant genome, make it possible to answer these questions and obtain detailed information about the evolution of the plant. Scientists used them in a recent study, which allowed them to obtain an interesting and rather unexpected result.

When Arabica coffee first appeared on Earth. Scientists have found out how and when Arabica coffee appeared. Photo.

Scientists have found out how and when Arabica coffee appeared

History of coffee – when people started drinking Arabica

It was originally believed that people grew Arabica coffee in Ethiopia and traded it with the peoples of the Middle East. As a result, in the 15th century it became a popular drink in the region, and its fame began to spread beyond its borders. There is a legend according to which a Muslim pilgrim around 1670 was so impressed by the drink that he secretly smuggled some Arabica seeds from Yemen and created coffee farms in Karnataka, India.

Dutch traders helped spread coffee to other regions. At the end of the 17th century, the plant was planted on the island of Java, and at the beginning of the 18th century, coffee began to be grown in the botanical garden of Amsterdam. During the same period of time, the French spread Arabica in their colonies. By the way, this subsequently led to the emergence of a new plant known as Bourbon. It was formed as a result of a mutation that occurred on the island of Reunion (Bourbon).

The history of coffee - when people started drinking Arabica coffee. Arabica coffee arose as a result of crossing two other varieties. Photo source: housing.com. Photo.

Arabica coffee arose as a result of crossing two other varieties. Photo source: housing.com

Modern C. arabica plants are descended from Bourbon and the original plant known as Typica. True, several wild ecotypes native to Ethiopia are still grown. According to previous studies, Arabica first appeared relatively recently – about 10 thousand years ago. However, current research suggests that the plant is actually much older.

What is the secret of Arabica coffee

As scientists report in their study published in the journal Nature Genetics, plant C . arabica developed as a result of natural hybridization, that is, the crossing of two other types of coffee – C. eugenioides and C. canephora (better known as Robusta). The new species received a polyploid genome, that is, the plant contains two sets of chromosomes from each parent.

This is precisely the secret of Arabica – the polyploid genome gives the plant an advantage in survival. It has more genes, thanks to which, in fact, it has greater ability to adapt to a new environment. As a result, C. arabica grows in all parts of the world.

What is the secret of Arabica coffee? Robusta coffee (C. canephora) is the parent of Arabica coffee. Photo source: www.britannica.com. Photo.

Robusta coffee (C. canephora) is the parent of Arabica. Photo source: www.britannica.com

However, the polyploid nature of the genome endowed the plant not only with advantages, but also with one serious disadvantage. Coffee lard is vulnerable to diseases, especially coffee rust, or roya (Hemileia Vasatrix). In 1927, C. arabica naturally crossed with C. canephora, its own parent species. The result was a more disease-resistant coffee variety. However, the grain quality was lower than that of C. arabica and Robusta. Therefore, it did not become as widespread as Arabica coffee.

When Arabica coffee appeared

In their study, scientists actually calculated the number of mutations, the estimated frequency (with what frequency mutations occur) and the generation time of the plant, that is, the period of time from seed to seed. To obtain a more accurate result, the researchers used genetic information from more than 40 Arabica samples from different locations. Among them there was even one example from the 18th century. This made it possible to find out approximately when the first plant appeared.

When Arabica coffee appeared. Arabica coffee originated in Ethiopia. Photo source: www.rbc.ru. Photo.

Arabica coffee originated in Ethiopia. Photo source: www.rbc.ru

Calculations have shown that the crossing of C. eugenioides and C. canephora occurred between 600 thousand and 1 million years ago in the forests of Ethiopia, when the parent plants were pollinated naturally. Scientists believe that although there may be an error in their calculations, overall the result is quite accurate. The study also reports that all living plants come from a single parent.

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Finally, we note that despite the ability of Arabica to adapt to various conditions, recently the area of ​​suitable land for growing coffee has been rapidly decreasing. One study even showed that humanity may soon face a serious shortage.