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  • scientists are warning that more than half of the world's wild coffee species are at risk of extinction.

  • But scientists right here in the UK are ringing the alarm about climate change and how it could put your morning cup of coffee at risk.

  • Climate change is going to negatively impact the quality of coffee in the future.

  • At the start of this year, paper was published titled Hi Extinction.

  • Risk for Wild Coffee Species Implications.

  • Coffee Sector Sustainability.

  • It was picked up by a number of news outlets.

  • They all covered it a little bit, but I wanted to know more.

  • So I traveled down to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to speak to the lead author, Dr Aaron Davis.

  • I'd met Aaron previously at a symposium event we had given a fantastic talk on.

  • We'd stayed in touch since you might recognize him as the author of The Coffee Atlas of Ethiopia.

  • The gardens at Kew are open to the public on our fascinating and beautiful, but I was excited that I could meet Aaron in herbarium, its cues collection of plant species over seven million samples collected from around the world, and we sat in an alcove and discussed the paper and its implications and coffee in genetics and so much more for an hour or so.

  • Here's that conversation, which I hope you enjoy.

  • My name is Aaron Davis.

  • I am senior research leader here.

  • Rock Gardens.

  • Kew.

  • I head up the plant resources team, but I am a coffee specialist.

  • Are suppose I'm a coffee biologist, but by trading, I am a botanist.

  • At what point in your career did you begin to specialize in coffee?

  • About 20 years ago, I did.

  • A post doctoral study in Madagascar on part of the project was to investigate the wild coffees of Madagascar.

  • It was an opportunity.

  • It was purely by chance that I ended up working on coffee, but within within a short period became fascinated by the other three organism.

  • You know, there's only days I didn't really connect it with the beverage or the industry of the second right, Right?

  • That came quite a bit later for me.

  • I met you six years ago.

  • I think it was incredibly exciting for me to meet someone who who seemed outside of my industry.

  • You know, we seem to have our fixed experts and then you appeared on Dhe knew so much about coffee and this whole other sense than than anyone else had really spoken to more than just this one species.

  • That is my day to day life and most people's relationship with coffee Arabica, right?

  • Like you, you opened my mind to the idea of the sheer volume of species that are out there, which is what I want to talk about quickly.

  • So so most people watching this will probably know a rabbit care.

  • They're pulling over buster, a zits trade name, so to speak.

  • They may be heard off something light like America, and that's three off 124 124 stations.

  • And I had no idea that there were this many going back to where it started.

  • What fascinated me was here was he was a crop plant off global significance globally, important commodity.

  • And we didn't know how many species that were very much really about some of the world's species.

  • And that's what I did for at least 10 years.

  • In fact, in fact, still doing today, so the process is is of just what we call describing new species.

  • It has been going on for many centuries and essentially or looking for plants that differ from other plants.

  • One of the differences.

  • We can't deal cataloguing the diversity of the the coffee genius.

  • Some of them were discovered in the sense that we were in the walking in the forest, and we found them for the very first time.

  • Others were found here in herbarium that had been collected maybe 100 years ago, but it languished, sort of undiscovered to scientists, every say in terms of the other species out there.

  • I think, you know, if you if you read your coffee history, you might have come across new generators the parent, one of the parents of Arabica and you might have come across, I think Yukos wrote about Stenner filler.

  • Yes, in a very positive way.

  • It was better, he said.

  • But he he got the idea from somebody else when you know it's been copied back through history s so I think it's a French, a French scientist or a French coffee specialist who first said that.

  • But it was better than than Arabica always goes over Africa.

  • I think that these sort of species are really the beginning of the wider story that your paper is telling, right?

  • Like the paper you published instead of this year gonna be difficult, I'd have a go myself.

  • Can you give a very brief summary of the paper?

  • I'll make sure it's linked below here so people can read it.

  • Can I still again, Back back all those years ago when I first started with coffee because one of things that came became very apparent very quickly was a lot of these species were incredibly rare and threaten the world on at that point that we needed to start to gather data to make a genius wider coffee, white assessment so lost.

  • Here we have the opportunity, uh, to actually do that properly through the U CN.

  • Readily system.

  • So that's a very stringent system where you assess the threat status, extinction status of any plant.

  • So we did that for coffee, and what we found was that actually, 60% of those 124 coffee species are threatened with extinction, including arabica.

  • But it gets a little bit worse than that because if you look at the material that's in seed collection's living collections, what we call journalism collections it's no, really probably conserved.

  • It's not enough species Ripper sensation.

  • There's not enough representation of wild populations, including our keep every species.

  • Why do we want to preserve them?

  • What's that mean beyond just It's nice to have lots of species because it's nice to species.

  • What's that?

  • What's the bigger plan for those potential species in the future?

  • So that's one of things were really saying in the papers that we need the species for the long term sustainability of the sector.

  • Now that might seem a bit fanciful, a bit science fiction.

  • But in fact, if you look back at the history of coffee cultivation, that's exactly what we've done.

  • Were taken new species such as very Buster.

  • We're taking different plants from different populations with particular attributes that have helped the industry sustained production where that's disease, pest resistance, climate tolerance except except with called on those resources time and time again to sustain coffee production.

  • Does climate change explain why we're interested in other species again when we hadn't been, it seems, for quite a long time your paper references, I think some work from the twenties late fifties early sixties that shows interest in other species.

  • And there's this seeming gap where we're not particularly, I think I think the reason is re buster or the main reason here we are with this.

  • This new plant came along, um, really got going in early 20th century, 19 twenties, 19 thirties and there wasn't really much need to look at this.

  • Species had everything we needed.

  • It had productivity.

  • It had other useful attributes.

  • It was easy to grow.

  • It was robust.

  • Hits the Boston.

  • What was the point in developing other species when we had is a drop of two species that were actually fulfilled?

  • Our requirements?

  • No, You in the paper, you categorize that these species in two different ways firstly, you by how endangered there are critically through.

  • To counter that, the language you use at the other end of like not not particularly endangered city at least concerned leave.

  • It concerns the crack place.

  • What percentage of species were critically endangered on DDE?

  • What time frame are we talking about?

  • Here is this They could go in the next 5 10 years.

  • Is this in the next 30 years?

  • How big is the window?

  • You know, action, but in terms of coffee system.

  • Sector sustainability.

  • Uh, there was high number of critically endangered species in the group.

  • That would be the priority for looking at the development, which was the other way You divided in the world world.

  • It's a funny phrase.

  • Ecru, wild relative.

  • Suitably ours.

  • So you divided those into three groups, which was a kind of prioritization based on proximity to Arabica.

  • Is that yes and robust.

  • Robust.

  • Okay.

  • Proximity to commercial.

  • Yeah, I recalled for coffee, if you will.

  • And how big was the sort of priority group?

  • The bridegroom is actually quite large, say at least 35 40 species.

  • And where are their species?

  • A predominately Ethiopia or Madagascar to know that So the Madagascar ones are in group three, which is a low priority group pure because the chemistry is so different.

  • African representatives in the crop plants.

  • So I just goingto, you know, let's say way preserve the species.

  • We present this material.

  • How What is the practical way that we begin to access that I've seen traditional plant crossing happen a lot in coffee.

  • I haven't seen much else.

  • Am I wrong?

  • Have I missed out or up until now?

  • I think the focus has been on breeding.

  • Um, there are now arrange off gene editing techniques, right?

  • You mentioned somatic fusion in the paper, which I think has been successful potatoes.

  • There's a suite of technologists on those technologies that are developing very, very rapidly, and you talk to people who plant breed in other plant groups that they have seen people.

  • I mean, why aren't you using those techniques?

  • I think the problem comes down to that public perception of Jim.

  • Do you think things like I feel like Christmas, for example, has had a ton of positive press world and crisp.

  • It does have applications for crop plants.

  • It's been used a think and rice, though a lot of the work, as far as I can tell, has been more hypothetical than it's been practical but descending like crisp A house applications and coffee in the same way, absolutely.

  • But the difficulty is in the U.

  • S.

  • Crisp.

  • It doesn't come under GMO, whereas in Europe, crisper comes under Jesse modification.

  • Although if you're scientists, you would argue that's not actually the case.

  • But I think something like crisper could have real potential particular particular disease resistance, right?

  • I think we're rooting if if we're really interested in sustainability on dhe we're trying to tackle met some of the major diseases like completely for us.

  • I think we have to look at those technologies.

  • So do you think there's a There's an option where very simply, we go back and look at the agricultural viability of some of these sort of priority one pretty close to arabica robusta species, where we think what if we start planting is what if we start growing?

  • These do they taste good.

  • Is that is that That's the world we started.

  • Okay, so what?

  • We're stood in Group one, which is the main crop species than the parents of Gene you idiots like America Arabica robusta on then his private group to which our species that have potential to breed with those species or to breed amongst themselves to make new crops our species around crop species in their own right, or indeed have been used before?

  • Talavera was already good example.

  • I think the bird has a little promise.

  • It doesn't work in its development, but it's been interesting because I'm almost gone full circle now back looking at wild species.

  • I think they think that really excites me.

  • Is that, um, you know, this is this isn't fanciful assistant science fiction.

  • I really do think there's potential there.

  • We just need the investment.

  • I'm a particular excited because what I see is the potential to really do something in terms of clarity, tolerance.

  • So I want to dig into climatic tolerance a little bit more.

  • Broadly speaking, Arabica likes altitude not because of altitude, but because of lots of sunlight and then a large swing.

  • Diable temperatures right.

  • It's a warm, warm, warm in the day cold, cold, cold at night.

  • And that means that you have.

  • You essentially slow the biology, the plant Quite a lot of night.

  • You end up with a denser seed on a better tasting.

  • It's about that fast and slow period feed, feed, feed.

  • And then slowly, we'll call the core tropics right When we talk about climate tolerance, you know the ability to withstand hot and nights in the heart of days is to some extent what we're talking about, as well as a suspect less access to water.

  • I think there's been a lot of focus on temperatures, but in many parts of the world.

  • That's water.

  • It's availability of water.

  • It's when it's in terms of when it's when it's in the ground.

  • Much is in the ground, so it's really that that balance between water and temperature, that's important.

  • But temperature is going to happen, you know, like if we continue half full degrees Celsius rise.

  • And if you look at the climate change models pretty much all in agreement that we're going to see an increase in temperature, always.

  • We're seeing an increase in temperature.

  • Where is this?

  • A little bit of heat really gonna punish Arabica as it is right now.

  • You can't pinpoint, uh, the effective temperature.

  • So when he's period or any process because of this relationship with water and with seasonality.

  • So, for example, you can withstand 28 degrees if the waters of sorry the soil is full of water.

  • If it's a full capacity, we say that's nicely even saturated.

  • But there's no water in, so our little water and soil 20 five degrees could be lethal.

  • 28 degrees could leave as we go, looking for solutions in other species.

  • One what characteristics we were looking for that are they is it that they are able to thrive with less water is that isn't some seven drought resistance or just a lower daily requirement, so to speak.

  • We have 100 24 coffee species on there that have evolved into different habitats.

  • They're adapted.

  • So what we're looking for is plants that have specific climatic torrents attributes.

  • So that might be a shorter, um uh, wet season along the dry season.

  • So there are plants that are adapted to those sorts of traditions, or it might be we have a plant was adapted to very wet conditions, very humid conditions.

  • And that plant might have disease, tolerance, toe fungal pathogens, for example.

  • It's a matter of taking, um, that years, as genetic resources of the attributes to breed, we'd be very prescriptive about the plants that we won't.

  • So it might be we're bringing something for East Africa that's completely different to the requirements of Central America.

  • My concern a cz I listen to you talk is that you know this this feels like a strategy for plant survival, but this is an agricultural plant.

  • Way yield becomes a huge consideration, and if you have a plant with limited access to water to someone.

  • Yeah.

  • Can you even can you cheat your environment to the extent you can have a high yielding plant that does well with limited rainfall or reduced rainfall?

  • You know it's not just about climatic tolerance.

  • It's also about a ll.

  • The other attributes that are required for a proper productivity taste market value.

  • He's of cultivation, willingness of farmers to actually grow the crop in the first place.

  • So it's no, it's not easy by any means.

  • But as I say, I think I think become increasingly more optimistic about the use of wild species because I'm seeing the potential to meet the requirements for some in some part of the coffee growing community I want I want to sort of pushing toe towards the conclusions of the payment on DDE.

  • We accept that coffee is threatened.

  • Wait, we need toe.

  • Keep as many of these species alive and healthy as possible, and you point out there's a couple of always doing that on Dhe.

  • Broadly, they're divided into institution execute, like so in the field as they would grow in their natural habitats, would be institute.

  • You would protect them through national parks or other protected forest.

  • Is that, Is that Yeah, that's right.

  • Except you would be cryopreservation.

  • Yes, there's one option.

  • It would be something like variety gardens or with that, Yeah.

  • So living collection in collections.

  • It could be, um, in vitro Slocum character, which is explain that a little bit more.

  • So you basically grow the plant, but slowing its growth incredibly.

  • Yeah, yeah.

  • So you can preserve lots of different species or varieties in a very small space on, Do you point out living collections can be problematic, right?

  • Because you can't prevent some level of crossing happen naturally is that's a problem you would visit because it's an open Poulain pollination environment, right?

  • And indeed, when you look at the genetic data for summer's collections, you can see they've been compromised.

  • Species have into crossed, and what happens is a lot of those collections have reproduced by seed, so that seed is gathered right on the trees planted.

  • But they've got no way of ensuring that that wasn't produced by hybrid barbecues by crossing event, and we see that we see lines of coffee planted that meant to be species X, where is in fact, a combination of species.

  • If money were no objection had limitless resource is what's the best way to preserve all of these species?

  • Is it cryopreservation?

  • Is that the gold standard?

  • Is it living collections buttressed really well maintained ones.

  • Is it actually in situ?

  • I think what you have to remember is if if if you're taking your preserving something ex situ, the marriage, genetic diversity, you can capture ex situ is incredibly limited.

  • I mean, we calculated that there were 13 and 1/2 1,000,000,000 Jenna types in Ethiopia.

  • Now you're not gonna capture that diversity.

  • Hey, exit you question, That's an extreme example.

  • But it's always going to be a compromise.

  • And that's why we do genomics to find out the variability so were captured as much variability is possible.

  • Ultimately, what you need to do is to preserve things in situ in the wild because they're also under selective continuing selective pressure.

  • They're adapting to the environment.

  • So you what you want that you want that standing variation.

  • But that's no good.

  • If