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.