ESD’s Javier Ceja-Navarro (lead author) and Eoin Brodie, with researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Mexico’s El College de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), discovered that coffee berry borers rely on bacteria in their guts to detoxify the massive amounts of caffeine they consume when they eat caffeine-rich coffee beans, their sole source of food and shelter. Their caffeine consumption is equal to a 150-pound person downing 500 shots of espresso!
Caffeine in such concentration is harmful to most insects. The scientists discovered that these caffeine fiends, worldwide, share 14 bacterial species in their digestive tracks which degrade and detoxify the caffeine. The most common of these bacteria has a gene that helps break down the caffeine. Since this insect is a major pest to coffee growers, the researchers hope this insight will lead to new ways to fight it.
Ceja-Navarro and Eoin Brodie of Berkeley Lab led the effort with the USDA’s Fernando Vega, an expert on the coffee berry borer. Also contributing are co-authors Zhao Hao, Ulas Karaoz, Trent Northen, Stefan Jenkins, and Hsiao Chien-Lim of Berkeley Lab; Francisco Infante of ECOSUR; and Petr Kosina of Mexico’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
- Beetles and Bugs, The Economist, July 18, 2015
- These caffeine-addicted beetles are using bacteria to ruin all of our coffee, Washington Post, July 17, 2015
- Coffee Beetle Microbes Can Survive on Pure Caffeine, Newsweek, July 15, 2015
- This Beetle is Ruining Your Coffee With the Help of Bacteria, National Geographic, July 14, 2015
- This Beetle’s Caffeine Addiction Is Threatening Your Own, io9.com, July 15, 2015
- Caffeine-addicted beetles cutting into coffee bean crops, CNET, July 17, 2015
- Battling the Coffee Borer Beetle, California Academy of Sciences, July 17, 2015