Can CRISPR Revolutionize Your Favorite Drink – Coffee?

Coffee is one of the most loved beverages in the world. It is believed that the use of coffee originated in the Ethiopian highlands. Coffee contains caffeine – central nervous system stimulant that reduces fatigue and drowsiness. The effects of caffeine vary across each person depending on body mass and tolerance.

CRISPR'ed Coffee

Caffeine composition:

Light coffee drinkers consume 1 cup of coffee per day which approximately consists of about 180mg of caffeine whereas heavy drinkers can intake more than 3 cups of tea ( >540mg of caffeine).

Some people are sensitive to caffeine and even a small amount can cause discomfort. Currently, 12% of the total worldwide coffee consumption is decaffeinated. As per the USDA, decaffeination does not mean coffee is 100% caffeine free and rather it only needs to be 97% caffeine free. Hence, your average 12 oz. cup of coffee will only consist of 5.4mg caffeine instead of 180mg.

History of decaffeinated coffee:

In 1903, Ludwig Roselius, a German coffee merchant invented the first commercial decaffeination process.  The Roselius process steamed coffee beans with a brine solution (water with saturated salt) and used benzene as a solvent to extract caffeine. This process is no longer used as benzene has been found to be carcinogenic.

Decaffeination process:

Currently, there are three main decaffeination processes and they share similar basic approaches. Firstly, the coffee beans are moistened to make the caffeine soluble and easy to draw out. Then, the coffee is decaffeinated at a moderate temperature from 160 to 210 Fahrenheit. This process is relatively costly, affects flavor and nutrition and some people think it is unnatural.

CRISPR Startup:

Tropic Biosciences, a UK based start-up is set to solve this challenge using CRISPR. The company turns off genes that are responsible to develop caffeine in coffee beans and hence, making naturally decaffeinated beans. This way, the taste and natural compounds that gets stripped away during extensive processing to remove caffeine get preserved.

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In 2016, Dr. Eyal Maori (CSO); Dr. Ofir Meir (CTO), Gilad Gershon (CEO) founded Tropic Biosciences.