The plants which produce one of the most popular drinks in the world, coffee, are targeted by a microscopic worm, but scientists are fighting back.
An underestimated problem in coffee farming, the parasite has been found in soil samples across the coffee growing world thanks to a new and quick detection method.
Details of the method are published in the journal Phytopathology and the researchers hope it will be used to further understand which species live where, so growers can take mitigating actions and protect our morning brew.
Around two billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day. This supply of coffee beans is challenged by two major nematode species which live in the soil and damage the roots of the coffee plant with no specific symptoms.
The nematodes feed on the plant roots, weakening the plant and ultimately cause yield loss. The nematodes also enjoy banana and black pepper plants, which are often grown alongside coffee providing a rich environment for them to thrive.
A team led by the University of Leeds, working with Nestlé agronomists and researchers, as well as international academic colleagues, took soil samples from plantations in Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia. They analysed these samples to identify DNA from the worms and found them at damaging levels wherever they looked.
The problem of nematode worms targeting coffee crops has been previously reported. However this is the first molecular-based study to assess plant-parasitic nematodes in coffee fields by sampling multiple crop plants in three major coffee producing countries.