Proteins in unroasted coffee beans may become next-generation insecticides

March 31, 2010
Unroasted coffee beans contain proteins that kill insects, a finding that may lead to new insecticides for protecting food crops. Credit: Fernando Rebelo, Wikimedia Commons

Scientists in Brazil are reporting for the first time that coffee beans contain proteins that can kill insects and might be developed into new insecticides for protecting food crops against destructive pests. Their study, which suggests a new use for one of the most important tropical crops in the world, appears in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Peas, beans and some other plant seeds contain proteins, called globulins, which ward off . Coffee beans contain large amounts of globulins, and Paulo Mazzafera and colleagues wondered whether those coffee proteins might also have an insecticidal effect. The high heat of roasting destroys globulins, so that they do not appear in brewed coffee.

Their tests against cowpea weevil larva, insects used as models for studying the insecticidal activity of proteins, showed that tiny amounts of the coffee proteins quickly killed up to half of the insects. In the future, scientists could insert for these insect-killing proteins into important food crops, such as grains, so that plants produce their own insecticides, the researchers suggest. The proteins appear harmless to people.

Explore further: Genes involved in coffee quality have been identified

More information: "Purification of Legumin-Like Proteins from Coffea arabica and Coffea racemosa Seeds and Their Insecticidal Properties toward Cowpea Weevil (Caliosobruchus maculates) (Coleoptera: Bruchidae)", Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2010
This is a much better idea for producing naturally harmless GMO plants with built-in insecticides. The fact that the globulins are destroyed in roasting indicates that any food plant with genes for extra globulins would not be harmful to eat so long as it is cooked. By contrast, the Bt toxin now in GMO crops is foreign to plants and not harmless or destroyed by cooking.
not rated yet Apr 01, 2010
Should we find out why globulins kill insects before engineering these proteins' genes into everyday grains? BTW, they still can't figure out why bee colonies are dying. Baby with the bath water?

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