Inspired and summarised from the latest BBC article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39747720 we were pleased to see the investment and scientific exploration of tea developing as it is such an important part of all our lives.
The first plant genome was sequenced just 15 years ago, and since then scientists across the world have worked on mapping the genome of crops and plants for commercial and medicinal reasons. Finding ways to increase attractive properties of plants for higher yields or for make them more resistant. Tea, until now, has rather remained a mystery to the scientific community despite it’s huge cultural and economic importance.
Tea is part of the camellia family which incorporates hundreds of varieties of plants, however only camellia sinensis is grown commercially for black, white, green, yellow and oolong teas. Decoding the camellia sinesis genome took more than five years and sequenced three billion DNA base pairs, nearly four times that of coffee or other plants.
This kind of development in the genetic mapping of the camellia sinesis plant is interesting on many levels, not only does it help lead ways that can improve the quality of tea grown as well as growing tea specifically for medicinal use. Tea has long been understood to have therapeutic benefits and antioxidant powers however the obvious complexity of the tea plant and it’s medicinal use have yet to be fully explored.
Another interesting discussion that evolved from the mapping of teas genome was the effect the chemical make up has on the taste of tea. The high levels of flavonoids and caffeine compounds are what craft tea’s distinctive flavor. Further investigation showed these compounds had been present in tea and the ancestors of the tea plant for roughly 6.3million years. Meaning that the ancient taste of tea has not changed for far longer than imagined!
As tea farmers we have always understood the importance of the plant’s history and environment to it’s taste and can only hope that this kind of research draws attention to the beauty and complexity of tea within our history as well as it’s health benefits.