Coffee Genetic Improvement Program

In 1992, the regional genetic improvement program was begun. It was developed in a framework of cooperation between PROMECAFE, CATIE and CIRAD with the participation of four Central American countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica.

This program was based on the hybridization of the best local varieties with wild plants from Ethiopia and the Sudan that were growing in the Germplasm Collection at CATIE in Turrialba, Costa Rica.

The program aims to increase the adaptability and productivity of varieties and increase resistance to diseases that affect the aerial and root parts of the plants, maintaining good cup quality and making new, high quality materials available to farmers.

Once about 20 new F1 hybrids were produced, they were propagated in CATIE’s Biotechnology Laboratory and given to ICAFE to establish test plots for validation in different farming areas of Costa Rica. These materials were also evaluated in the other countries that were part of the project.

We have now selected the four best F1 hybrids that show superiority to their parents in growth vigor, reproductive capacity, resistance to stress, adaptability, yield and bean quality, among other traits. This increased productive and adaptive capacity is known scientifically as hybrid vigor or heterosis.

These new hybrids have also adapted well to different elevations and coffee regions, of lower (below 1000 masl), medium (1000-1200) and higher elevations (above 1200 masl).

Constant evaluations by ICAFE have shown that two of these materials, in addition to the good traits mentioned above, have tolerance to leaf rust while others have shown resistance to this disease.

These materials should not be propagated sexually by seed (as is traditionally done) because they will produce a lot of variability and the good traits for which the mother plant was selected may be lost; they must be propagated asexually. And this is where high frequency somatic embryogenesis has been giving the best results.

High frequency somatic embryogenesis

This technique is characterized by the use of leaf blade segments that are put to grow in different nutritive media to achieve the production of a mass of undifferentiated cells, able to generate the embryos that are called embryogenic calluses.

The callus is used for the establishment of cell suspensions that allow the regeneration of high quality somatic embryos. Once the embryos have been produced, they are developed in temporary immersion bioreactors (RITAs) before being taken to the greenhouse until they reach the ideal size to take to the field.This methodology has given excellent results for the propagation of coffee and it has been in development by CATIE for about 20 years, initially with the support of researchers from CIRAD, and as of 12 years ago, with support from students and assistants at our institution.