A Million Years of Plant Evolution in Your Morning Coffee: Scientists Unravel Caffeine's Mysteries
Many take caffeine from tea or mate, an herbal drink popular in South America. But the drug, unlike so many others, didn't come from a chemistry lab. It came from millions of years of plant evolution.
Caffeine is by far the most popular psychoactive drug in the world: 26,000 cups of coffee are consumed on the planet every second; many take caffeine from tea or mate, an herbal drink popular in South America. But the drug, unlike so many others, didn't come from a chemistry lab. It came from millions of years of plant evolution.
Caffeine began in plants as an inactive enzyme called xanthosine but after certain genetic mutations occurred in the course of evolutionary change, the enzyme became caffeine. Interestingly, this genetic process occurred in tea leaves and cocoa beans to produce the same result. Scientists call the phenomenon convergent evolution, i.e. when the same complex trait is produced by different processes.
"Birds, for example, evolved wings when their finger bones fused together and sprouted feathers more than 150 million years ago. Bats, on the other hand, evolved wings about 60 million years ago when their fingers stretched out and became covered in membranes.When convergent evolution produces the same complex trait more than once, it’s usually a sign of a powerfully useful adaptation."
In high doses, caffeine makes soil less fertile as coffee leaves fall to the ground, eliminating competition from other plants. It can also poison animals that would eat it. But in small doses, nectar containing caffeine can excite insects to transport the plant's pollen, and the human fascination with caffeine is the plant's most brilliant success.
So happy morning coffee (or tea or mate), everyone. Despite researchers' best attempts to find the negative side effects of coffee, NYU nutrition expert Marion Nestle happily reports we expertly metabolize caffeine:
Read more at the New York Times
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.
- Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
- Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
- As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.
- Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
- Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
- All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.
- China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
- In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
- The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.