These Beetles’ Gut Bacteria Let Them Consume As Much Caffeine as 500 Shots of Espresso

By Mike Pomranz |
FWX CAFFEINE TOLERANT BEETLES RUINING COFFEE

© LJ Wilson-Knight / Alamy

What if you could drink 500 shots of espresso and barely get a buzz?

A species of beetle known as the coffee berry borer is able to do exactly that: surviving on what’s described as the equivalent of a 150 pound person drinking 500 shots of espresso – an amount that would kill any other animal. Scientists say that they’ve finally uncovered the key to these beetles’ absurd caffeine tolerance: their gut bacteria.

Now, researchers are looking for a way to take advantage of this gut bacteria knowledge. No, sorry, they’re not trying to transplant it into humans. Instead, they’re hoping to figure out how to reduce the caffeine tolerance of the coffee berry borer, whose love of boring into coffee has earned them the title of “the most devastating coffee pest in the world” – able to cut coffee crop yields by as much as 80 percent.

“Instead of using pesticides, perhaps we could target the coffee berry borer's gut microbiota,” said Javier Ceja-Navarro, lead author of the new study and a lab scientist at Berkeley Lab. “We could develop a way to disrupt the bacteria and make caffeine as toxic to this pest as it is to other insects.”

So, though unfortunately scientists aren’t trying to turn us into espresso-guzzling zombies, their current research will hopefully make sure we can continue to get our coffee fix by keeping the coffee berry borer out of our coffee beans. Hopefully, with their love of caffeine reduced, the beetles will just switch to green tea.

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