Saturday, July 30, 2022

PBS Eons asks and answers 'Why Does Caffeine Exist?'

PBS Eons asked a question about the intersection of three of my interests, evolution, biodiversity, and coffee, Why Does Caffeine Exist?

Today, billions of people around the world start their day with caffeine. But how and why did the ability to produce this molecule independently evolve in multiple, distantly-related lineages of flowering plants, again and again?
This tale forms part of a story I tell my students, how plants synthesize compounds to defend against insects and other predators and parasites and then humans use them for other purposes, mostly medicinal and recreational, so I knew some of it already. However, I still learned about more plants that produce caffeine in addition to coffee, tea, cacao (chocolate), and kola nut, the legend behind the discovery of coffee, caffeine being an anti-gastropod and anti-fungal agent, and the biochemical pathway for caffeine action. As I've written many times before, "It's a good day when I learn something new." I hope my readers think so, too.

That's it for today's food science lesson. Stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment feature, when I plan on continuing my series on the 2022 Emmy nominees.

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