GCQRI Day 1 – Dr Vince Petiard

I will try and post a few summaries of talks here – it seems overkill to liveblog an academic congress. I suspect that what I post here will suffer from my brain not being able to process these things fast enough, and I won’t get a copy of the slides until afterwards.

The first full talk of the day, after the opening address, was Dr Vince Petiard. He is Executive Vice-President of Business Development for Natural Source Genetics and former Director of Plant Science and Technology Centrer for Nestle, L’Oreal and the Syntheloabo. I’m not sure exactly what that all means but in his talk he explained that he worked on raw material research for various companies as they were acquired by various larger companies.

His talk was both fascinating and slightly horrifying. A lot of people consider Nestle the enemy (in coffee) but when you look at what they’ve done (in terms of research) and what they know then I am very glad I got some insight into their process.

There is really too much to cover, and I am going to struggle to condense things down enough. I’m just going to post one interesting part of his talk (the bit mostly about coffee). Nestle took around a hundred varieties, propagated them, stored samples in liquid nitrogen, and then grew them. Across 3-5 crops they were able to assemble a database of varieties with masses of data about them (from how they roast and extract- for instant of course – through to yield and trunk size of the trees).

At the end of this they had three catagories:

1 – Varieties that taste good pretty much anywhere they grow. Essentiallly the quality was linked to the variety itself.
2 – Varieties that pretty bad no matter where you grow them.
3 – Varieties that can taste good in certain areas/under certain conditions.

Of category one there were five main varieties in there. Interestingly 3 of those 5 varieties where from what he called the Ethiopian Accession. I think this means that these are essentially heirloom Ethiopian varieties. He didn’t say what any of them where, but he said that one of 2 that were the result of cultivation and selection came from someone he knew. He asked that person how they’d cultivated the variety and he explained that the two stages where first to select for disease resistance and sufficient yield, and then of those children (of the first generation) he then sub-selected based on cup quality. This continued through several generations.

Really there was too much to cover here. I am sure we’ll talk about the GCQRI budget in subsequent sessions – but to give some perspective. Nestle purchases about 2.5% of the coffee crop. Their total R&D budget is 120 million swiss francs, of which 2.5 million swiss francs ($2.53m) is spent on coffee. Per year.

The main subject of the talk is about how plant science can help the Speciality coffee industry. Mechanisms to learn and implement new technologies, but also to raise concerns about genetic diversity and even agro-terrorism. I particularly enjoyed hearing about how the correlate cup quality to raw coffee. One method they’ve been working on is skipping correlating cup quality to specific biochemicals, instead cupping to correlate to genetic markers. This appears to have been more successful – though I really understand nothing about how you break down coffee’s DNA to be able to find specific, interesting lines of DNA code.

As a final note – he reminded us that finding markers that correlate to quality, does not mean that marker is causing quality. Anyway – back to the next session!

(Apologies for any mistakes I make!)

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