For its size, the coffee berry borer makes your caffeine consumption look almost laughably manageable, downing an amount that relative to its body mass would be like a person taking 500 shots of espresso in one day—and its habit is becoming a real threat to coffee supplies.
A new study in Nature Communications looks at the great mystery of the coffee berry borer: Just how does it manage to take in all that caffeine? The relative amount of caffeine that its ingesting should be poisonous. Its continual ability to exist, even flourish, has been a cause of envy and consternation for both researchers and coffee farmers alike.
So what’s going on? The study suggests that the secret may be deep in the beetle’s gut, with a unique set of microbes that work together to efficiently break down caffeine. They charted them out, and their elaborate interaction with each other:
Of course, once the coffee berry borer has taken hold of a coffee field, it’s tenacious: Farm yield levels typically drop by 80% once they move in. So, now that they’ve figured out how it holds on, the next step says the researchers is to figure out a way to use the secret of its caffeine-processing bacteria against it.
Top image: Coffee berry borer / Hawaii Department of Agriculture via Berkeley Lab, Chart: Nature Communications.