Quick: what do tea, chocolate and coffee all have in common? There’s actually a lot they share – including many cancer-protective compounds – but for all who answered caffeine, that’s the big one.
Now a research team has sequenced a draft of the genome of the coffee plant, finding that the caffeine compound has probably evolved independently of tea or chocolate. The researchers sequenced the plant Coffea canephora, which reportedly accounts for almost a third of the world’s coffee production.
The study was published on Friday in Science.
In all, the scientists identified about 25,000 protein-producing genes in the plant. (Humans have approximately 21,000 genes.) When they compared the coffee genome to the DNA of tea and chocolate they found coffee’s caffeine enzymes are more closely related to other genes within the coffee plant than to caffeine enzymes in tea and chocolate.
Compared to the grape and tomato, the coffee plant contains larger families of genes that relate to the production of flavonoid and other compounds, which contribute to the smell of coffee and are studied for their health benefits.
We’ve written a lot about coffee and cancer risk. Caffeine is only one of the compounds in coffee that has shown cancer-fighting properties in lab studies. And coffee is among the top sources of antioxidants among Americans.
Last year, AICR/WCRF’s Continuous Update Project report found that coffee reduces the risk of endometrial cancer. The effect was seen in both caffeinated and decaffeinated. The risk reduction was modest but it was the first time that an AICR report linked coffee to reducing risk of any of the common cancers.
Among the 17 cancers included in AICR research, there is enough evidence for the reports to conclude that coffee has no affect on pancreatic and kidney cancers.
AICR has no recommendation on coffee because the evidence is too limited for how coffee affect other cancers, as well as overall health. Yet the research suggests a moderate amount is safe.
For more on the research, along with coffee recipes – visit our Coffee section of Foods that Fight Cancer.