Berkeley Lab

Beetles and bugs | The Economist

THE coffee-berry borer is a pesky beetle. It is thought to destroy $500m-worth of unpicked coffee beans a year, thus diminishing the incomes of some 20m farmers. The borer spends most of its life as a larva, buried inside a coffee berry, feeding on the beans within. To do so, it has to defy the toxic effects of caffeine. This is a substance which, though pleasing to people, is fatal to insects—except, for reasons hitherto unknown, to the coffee-berry borer. But those reasons are unknown no longer. A team of researchers led by Eoin Brodie of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Fernando Vega of the United States Department of Agriculture had a suspicion the answer lay not with the beetle itself, but with the bacteria in its gut. As they outline in Nature Communications, that suspicion has proved correct.

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