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Brazzil - Technology - August 2004
 

Brazil Cracks Coffee Genome

With the success of the Coffee Genome Project, initiated in
February, 2002, Brazil becomes the leader in genetic research
on the beverage. Mastery of the genetic code will make it
possible to develop more productive varieties, capable of
tolerating climatic variations resisting the attacks of pests.

Maurício Cardoso


Brazzil

Picture The genetic code for coffee is no longer a secret. Brazilian scientists concluded the first large-scale sequencing of the coffee plant genome and assembled the world's largest data bank on the bean.

There are 200 thousand DNA sequences. Sequencing made it possible to identify over 30 thousand genes responsible for various of the plant's growth and development mechanisms (leaves, roots, fruit, flowers, and branches).

The official announcement of the sequencing was made August 10 by the Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues. He also signed a technical cooperation contract to regulate access to and use of the information.

The data will be kept by the Agronomic and Environmental Genomes Network of the São Paulo Research Assistance Foundation (Fapesp) and the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology Center (Cenargen) of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (Embrapa), in Brasília.

With the success of the Coffee Genome Project, initiated in February, 2002, Brazil becomes the leader in genetic research on the beverage, and Brazilian scientists have acquired greater knowledge of the plant's genome.

Brazil is one of the few countries in the world to master the technology of sequencing complete genomes. The country recently concluded sequencing the genetic codes of Xylella, Xantohmonas (two plant bacteria), and sugar cane.

The data generated by the Genome Project, says Minister Rodrigues, will benefit the entire coffee productive chain, especially small growers, by making technological inclusion available to family farming.

Mastery of the genetic code will make it possible to develop more productive varieties, capable of tolerating climatic variations (such as drought and frost) and resisting the attacks of pests and diseases currently controlled through the use of agricultural pesticides.

According to Rodrigues, sequencing of the genome unveils an "extraordinary horizon" for the competitiveness of coffee-growing in Brazil, diminishing production costs and upgrading the quality of the product.

"The productivity and the quality of our coffee will be enhanced by the genetic improvement of the plants."

The Minister pointed out that, with the sequencing, the country assumes the position of front-runner in the race to patent coffee genes and advances at least two decades in terms of progress in research and improvements in cultivation.

Consumers will also obtain benefits. The data generated by the project will accelerate the development of other, higher quality plants, with more aroma and flavor and superior nutritional characteristics (levels of caffeine, vitamins, and minerals).

"This represents a Brazilian vanguard in scientific terms," the Minister affirmed, emphasizing that, with the genome, Brazil, which is already the world's biggest producer and exporter and second-biggest consumer of coffee, will increase its competitiveness in the sector even more.

Cancer Treatment

On another front, the medical one, researchers from São Carlos and Ribeirão Preto, in the state of São Paulo, are trying to discover alternative ways to treat skin cancer.

The study is being conducted by the schools of medicine and chemistry at the Ribeirão Preto campus of the University of São Paulo (USP) and the physics department at the USP campus in São Carlos.

They are testing new drugs and the prototype of a domestically manufactured laser device that reduces the cost of treatment.

The clinical trials have already produced positive results. The 100 patients on which the therapy was tested showed a 70-80 percent improvement in cases of skin cancer. The laser beam activates the drug applied to the lesion, without surgery or counter indications, and the skin heals in three months.

"Photodynamic therapy is a proposed treatment for cancer; nevertheless, it can be used for other disorders through the association of a light source with a topical remedy to destroy tumor cells," affirmed the researcher, Casilda da Silva Souza.


Maurício Cardoso works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.




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