Newsletter – Year III – Number I – June, 2024

Daterra Coffee is a farm that produces and exports specialty coffees. It was born from a dream of reinventing coffee cultivation with quality, and is now globally recognized for its dedication to sustainability and quality. The company is a pioneer in sustainable coffee farming and has numerous achievements reflecting this commitment, being the first coffee farm certified by Rainforest Alliance in Brazil, with certifications such as UTZ Certified, ISO 14001, and winner of the “Sustainable Farm Award 2015” by Globo Rural Magazine, recognized as the most sustainable farm in Brazil.

Daterra invests significantly in research and development to enhance its cultivation and processing techniques, ensuring that each coffee bean meets the highest quality standards. In this regard, the company finds in the Agronomic Institute (IAC) the ideal partner for the continuous innovation of the beans produced on its farms and the implementation of increasingly sustainable agricultural practices. To discuss this important partnership between Daterra and IAC, we spoke with MSc. Diulie Moreira, Market Research and Development Specialist at Daterra.

1) Daterra has been a partner of the Agronomic Institute for many years and recently strengthened this bond even further by participating in the project for the development of new technologies to solve the main problems in sugarcane, citrus, and coffee crops, the CCD-CROP-IAC. Could you tell us a bit about Daterra’s partnership with the CCD-CROP-IAC?

Daterra is proud of its partnership with IAC in this and many other research projects. For Daterra, plant genetic improvement is one of the most relevant activities in national coffee research. In this sense, we have been seeking to encourage research and support institutions that aim to develop innovative and sustainable coffee farming. The choice of caffeine content as the main theme of this research represents a great opportunity for us to develop an Arabica coffee cultivar with no or reduced levels of the compound. This is especially relevant in a scenario of intense expansion in demand for these coffees, whether due to the adverse side effects of caffeine or market preference.

In this genome editing proposal, commercial cultivars are used with the aim of obtaining plants with caffeine-free beans. Thus, we start from a commercial, productive, vigorous, and biotic stress-resistant cultivar that already possesses desirable agronomic and industrial attributes. This will reduce the development time of the new cultivar and facilitate market access.

2) Regarding the research, how does the interaction between IAC and Daterra work? What are the main experimental fields and ongoing projects?

Research is generally planned jointly, based on a defined demand. Our research team, along with IAC researchers, develop strategies, define methodologies, implement experiments, monitor, and discuss results together. Currently, we have several research projects being developed in the field of genetic improvement and plant selection. Recently, we initiated a partnership with IAC to identify C. canephora rootstocks that positively influence the productive potential and resistance of cultivars producing differentiated coffees. The experiment was implemented in 2022 in two experimental fields (São João Farm – Franca/SP and Boa Vista Farm – Patrocínio/MG), using seven C. arabica canopy cultivars of excellent quality, grafted onto three pre-selected C. canephora rootstocks based on vegetative development and compatibility. The expected results of this research are to identify rootstocks compatible with the evaluated canopy cultivars and capable of increasing their productive potential in different cultivation regions.

3) What are the main bottlenecks in the coffee production chain and how do you see the partnership with CCD-CROP-IAC in helping to overcome these challenges?

Climate change, rising temperatures, more frequent and severe droughts, and changes in precipitation patterns are currently some of the main challenges in coffee production in Cerrado Mineiro. Extreme weather conditions can affect crop quality and reduce productivity.

For us, the challenges related to these climate changes require a technological response, such as the development of plant genetic varieties adapted to this climate transition. Therefore, CCD-CROP-IAC initiatives aimed at exploring other genetic improvement technologies represent an opportunity to eventually introduce genome editing methodology into the Coffee Improvement Program and extend this strategy to other characteristics, such as pest and disease resistance, drought tolerance, and even to modulate the chemical and sensory profile of coffee beans in new cultivars.

The first semester of 2024 saw visits from renowned international researchers to our laboratories. These connections are vital for our project, as they strengthen the exchange of knowledge and experiences with leading experts in biotechnology, genomics, and private sector directors who can facilitate and accelerate the transformation of research into market-ready agricultural technology.

On May 20, 2024, CCD-CROP-IAC researchers received researchers from the University of Florida at the Citrus Center of the Agronomic Institute (IAC):

– Manjull Dutt – Specialist Researcher in Citrus and Subtropical Fruit Breeding, Genetics

– Amit Levy – Specialist Researcher in the Biology of Phytopathogens and their Host Interactions

On April 25, 2024, CCD-CROP-IAC researchers hosted representatives from partner company Nuseed at the Sugarcane Center of the Agronomic Institute (IAC). Attendees included:

– José Antônio Bressiani – Research Director, Nuseed Brazil

– Ricardo Bendzuis – Business Director, Nuseed Brazil

– Rodrigo Sarria – Chief Technology Lead, Nuseed USA

– Adrian Mel – Global Seeds & Traits Strategy Lead, Nuseed USA

– Brent Whittaker – Global Market Development Manager, Nuseed USA

The presence of these specialists also reaffirms CCD-CROP-IAC’s commitment to scientific excellence and innovation, strengthening our position as a global reference center in agricultural research. We are excited about the collaborative opportunities that arise from these visits and confident that these international ties will bring significant benefits to our research and the agricultural sector as a whole.

Researchers Dr. Oliveiro Guerreiro Filho, Dr. Lilian Padilha, and Dr. Luiz Filipe Pereira, members of the CCD-CROP-IAC project, participated in a study recently published in the journal Nature Genetics. Publications in high-impact journals like those of the Nature group are significant milestones for any scientist, representing recognition of innovative and high-quality work by the international scientific community.

The article in question is “The genome and population genomics of allopolyploid Coffea arabica reveal the diversification history of modern coffee cultivars” and it details the genomic structure of Coffea arabica, an allotetraploid hybrid of Coffea eugenioides and Coffea canephora, which forms the basis of approximately 60% of globally consumed coffee products. Among many other findings, this study identified genetic loci that may contribute to pathogen resistance, establishing a solid foundation for genomics-based genetic improvement of C. arabica in the future.

It is work like this that shapes the future of science and technology.

The largest citrus fair in Latin America, the 49th edition of Expocitros and the 45th Citriculture Week, took place at the Sylvio Moreira Citrus Center in Cordeirópolis, SP, one of the centers of the institution hosting CCD-CROP-IAC. This event is a reference in the sector, bringing together producers, agronomists, researchers, and agribusiness companies in the citrus industry. With around 10,000 participants and 30 lectures, Expocitros promoted networking, knowledge sharing, and company portfolio presentations. The fair featured a complete structure to ensure a unique experience for visitors and exhibitors, offering significant business opportunities and visibility in the citrus sector. The event covered topics such as phytosanitation, technological innovation, nutrition, economics, and public policies in the sector.

In the video, the lead researcher of CCD-CROP-IAC, Dr. Alessandra Alves de Souza, talks a bit more about Expocitros2024. Watch and see how the 2024 edition went.

Genetically transformed sugarcane plants by Dr. Silvana Creste’s team are showing excellent performance in biomass gain! These are important results for the development of more sustainable sugarcane cultivars.

Researchers at CCD-CROP-IAC have been studying the potential of the Dirigent-Jacalin gene (ShDJ) in sugarcane for some time. To better understand the function of the ShDJ gene, researchers used biotechnology to insert this gene into rice plants (used as a model for studying genetic functions in monocotyledons). The transgenic events (rice plants with the ShDJ gene) showed a significant increase in biomass production under water restriction conditions compared to wild-type plants. The positive results in rice plants validated the gene’s potential, leading to the development of an overexpression vector for the ShDJ gene in sugarcane.

The IACSP05-5094 sugarcane cultivar was selected for genetic transformation experiments, and so far, the researchers’ work has resulted in 328 independent events of this cultivar containing the *ShDJ* overexpression cassette. These events were sent to Nuseed Brasil S.A.’s Experimental Farm in Alagoas for agronomic field evaluation, led by Dr. José Bressiani. Of the events tested, five showed exceptional performance, producing 53% more biomass in tons of green mass per hectare (TMVH) than the five best wild-type IACSP05-5094 plants.

The outlook of this work for society is significant. The development of more sustainable sugarcane cultivars is a direct response to the challenges posed by climate change, promoting increased productivity without the need for expanded cultivation areas. This advancement not only contributes to food and energy security but also to environmental preservation by promoting more efficient and sustainable agricultural practices.

Researchers at CCD-CROP-IAC are utilizing drones to monitor agronomic characteristics and detect diseases, including greening, in genetically modified citrus plants with agricultural potential. These transgenic plants are in the field evaluation stage and are maintained in Planned Environmental Release (LPMA) areas. The use of drones allows for precise analysis of plant development, including canopy volume, while also facilitating the identification of pests and diseases that affect the aerial parts of the plants.

However, as this is a new methodology for this type of monitoring, it is still necessary to correlate the data with traditional on-site analyses to validate the evaluations, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the obtained data.

This work being developed by CCD-CROP-IAC researchers is promising! Data from six correlations between drone evaluations and traditional methods confirm that for assessments of plant development and canopy volume, the data correspond in both forms of evaluation. However, for disease detection, there is still a challenge in differentiating symptoms that cause leaf color changes from those caused by nutritional deficiencies—a crucial task for the success of remote monitoring and effective crop management.

In this project, CCD-CROP-IAC highlights its triple helix model of technological innovation by working together with the Climate Change Genomics Research Center (GCCRC) – Embrapa, which has effectively assisted in data processing and analysis. This innovative work is expected to enable the integration of advanced technologies in the field, significantly contributing to precision citriculture.

With the data already obtained, CCD-CROP-IAC researchers are planning drone technology that allows for the estimation of orchard productivity and the identification of plants showing signs of biotic or abiotic stresses. Additionally, drones facilitate plant counting, allowing for the analysis of planting efficiency and the measurement of the final harvest, directly influencing crop performance.

The team of researchers at CCD-CROP-IAC, led by Dr. Alessandra F. Ribas, has made significant progress in applying CRISPR technology to the genetic improvement of coffee. Embryogenic coffee cells have undergone the genetic transformation process and are in the stage of selection and development of somatic embryos. The regenerated seedlings will be evaluated for genetic editing using molecular tools.

CRISPR is the leading technology for gene editing in plants. However, its application in coffee plants is challenging due to the extensive time required to obtain embryogenic cells suitable for editing and subsequent development into complete plants. Therefore, the researchers’ work has focused on defining the best protocol for obtaining these cells.

The research involves the following simplified steps:Establish in vitro coffee plants from seeds.

  1. Use the leaves of these plants to create fragments called explants.
  2. Place the explants in a culture medium to induce the formation of calli (cell masses).
  3. Transfer the calli to another culture medium to induce pro-embryogenic cells.
  4. These cells can form somatic embryos, which germinate and develop into complete plants. The pro-embryogenic cells are used for CRISPR application.

Dr. Alessandra Ribas is applying CRISPR technology to produce decaffeinated coffee plants by silencing caffeine precursor genes. Establishing gene-editing techniques in coffee plants could accelerate coffee breeding programs, enabling the development of new cultivars with desired characteristics more quickly and efficiently.

For over nine decades, the Molecular Biology Laboratory at the Coffee Center has been conducting research on one of the largest coffee germplasm banks, maintained at the Agronomic Institute (IAC). Dr. Juliana Schenk and her team are part of this laboratory within the CCD-CROP-IAC, working on projects ranging from plant selection and genetic material extraction to the identification and validation of genetic markers, ensuring practical agility and precision for agriculture. This process is known as “Genomics-Assisted Breeding,” where researchers associate DNA markers in plants with various traits of interest that can be passed on to future generations.

According to Dr. Juliana Schenk, the IAC germplasm bank has provided insights into the sequences and structure of coffee genomes, offering solutions for the improvement of this crop and innovations for coffee growers. Currently, there are many biotechnological tools that offer numerous possibilities and scenarios in scientific research. Within CCD-CROP-IAC, we aim to identify DNA markers for various applications.

These include the discovery and intentional modification of genes of interest (gene editing), precise identification of individuals and cultivars in a field, molecular characterization of parents and lines in breeding programs, creation of markers that function as records and protection of cultivars, traceability of beans for export, and guiding crosses through the exploration of genomic databases, among other applications.

With this, CCD-CROP-IAC continues to drive innovation in coffee cultivation, paving the way for the development of superior new coffee cultivars that meet the demands of producers and consumers while contributing to the preservation and appreciation of coffee’s genetic biodiversity.

PhD students Dhiôvanna Corrêia Rocha and Danyel Fernandes Contilliani, along with master’s student Lucas Nascimento dos Santos, have been awarded the Research Internship Abroad scholarship (BEPE-FAPESP) for professional training of up to 12 months outside Brazil. They are currently in the United States: Dhiôvanna Rocha and Danyel Contilliani are at the University of Maryland, joining the Qi Lab under the supervision of Dr. Yiping Qi, and Lucas Santos is at the Citrus Research and Education Center at the University of Florida, supervised by Dr. Manjul Dutt.

International partnerships like these are extremely important for the CCD-CROP-IAC project, as they allow Brazilian researchers to acquire advanced knowledge and innovative techniques used in major research centers and bring them back to our laboratories in Brazil. Dhiôvanna and Lucas are learning new plant genetic editing techniques via CRISPR, which will support the center’s citrus research in developing cultivars resistant to greening and other diseases.

Researchers from CCD-CROP-IAC presented their work at the international conference “Plant and Animal Genome (PAG 31)” held from January 12 to 17 in San Diego, USA. 


– Dra. Silvana A. Creste D. Souza and Dra. Claudia B. Monteiro-Vitorello from the Center for Sugarcane (IAC) showcased advancements in developing new sugarcane varieties with increased biomass production, drought tolerance, and disease resistance.

– Msc. Gustavo S. Crestana also represented IAC-Cana, contributing to discussions on sugarcane genetics and biotechnology.

– Dra. Cristina P. S. Martins, a postdoctoral researcher from the Citrus Center (also part of the INCT_Citros project), presented her research on using CRISPR technology for citrus greening (HLB) control.

The CCD-CROP-IAC team, comprising researchers from the Agronomic Institute (IAC), students, and project partner companies, participated in the “International Research Conference on Huanglongbing (IRCHLB)” held from March 26 to 29, 2024, at the Riverside Convention Center in Riverside, California.

– Several studies from CCD-CROP-IAC focused on HLB management were presented during the conference.

– Dra. Simone C. Picchi, CEO of CiaCamp and a project partner, presented results on the use of the molecule N-acetylcysteine for greening management.

– Dra. Alessandra A. de Souza, Dr. Helvécio Della Coletta Filho, Dr. Dirceu Mattos Jr., Msc. Dhiôvanna Corrêia Rocha, and Lucas Nascimento dos Santos were among the researchers and students representing IAC at the conference.

These international engagements highlight CCD-CROP-IAC’s commitment to advancing agricultural research and biotechnological solutions for crop improvement and disease management.


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