Botany Question: Plants & Caffeine

I suppose that beverages such as soft drinks have caffeine added to them by manufacturing processes, but what about naturally occuring caffeine, such as tea and coffee, and I also assume chocolate? My main question is, are the plants that tea and coffee are produced from related, if not why do they both have caffeine in them? Do any other plants contain caffeine?

Not particularly closely no. They are both dicots, but that’s about as close as it gets.

Caffeine is a poison. It’s designed primarily to make the plant unpalatable to herbivorous animals. We humans happen to get a buzz out of it in small doses, but it will kill even us in moderate doses. To other animals species it is more toxic.

It’s chemically similar to some othe rimportant plant compounds so it can pretty readily evolve more than once.

Yep. Guarana, the cola plant and the cocoa plant that they make chocolate out of are the obvious examples. It’s also found in common holly. I’m sure it’s found in many other species as well.

If other various plants can contain caffeine, are there multiple species of unrelated plants that can contain chemicals such as THC, opiates, whatever is used for cocaine, etc?

I’m just curious, it’s not as if I would go try to smoke a poison ivy leaf if you told me it had THC in it. I made myself very sick when I was about 14 trying various natural plant materials I found in a book on psychoactive plants at my school. Great book to keep around teens, huh?

To the eternal sadness of druggies everywhere, I’m afriad not.

THC and other natural cannabinoids occur naturally only in plants of the Cannabis strains indica, ruderalis, and sativa
Opium and the rest of the natural opiates occur only in the Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy
Cocaine occurs only in the coca plant, Erythroxylum coca.

Now, as for the etc, there are some psychoactive compounds that occur in number of natural locations. I’m not going to go into which and where, but there are some.

As for the reason why caffene is so widespread (it occurs, in my count, in something like six or seven species) and other psychoactives are not, that’s beyond my area of knowledge.

Just to Hijack slightly. Why cant these chemicals be bred into other plants. What about caffienated otatos, or THC laden carrots? How come there isnt a war on veggies yet?

Caffeine is essentially modified purine, one of the major components of DNA. Because of this it’s relatively easy for it to evolve multiple times simply because all plants have the basic machinery to make it.

Blake said:

Banks said:

I understand nothing about botany or genetics, but it seems to me that other psychoactive compounds would be produced, or could be produced by other plants since evolution has allowed caffeine to do this.

My curiosity is causing me to run away with this thought, sorry, I’m interested in botany (I grew up in the greenhouse/landscape/tree farm business [also I may be under the influence of a combination of other psychoactive plant substances too: barley, malt, and rye]). Anyways, with caffeine being fairly common among other plants that have few common simularities, could it be possible to crossbreed say a opium poppy with a orchid (or anything else), and have it yield the same psychoactive properties. Could genetic engineering be used to create hybrid plants that would make the DEA go nuts. Could you imagine a Marijuana Maple tree (what would that be, a Acer Sativa, j/k). If it were possible and the technology was availible to the common person, we (or those concerned about drug control, anyway) could have a big problem on our hands. So, could any of this be possible through grafting, crossbreeding, genetics, etc.?

LOL, while I was typing my reply **Psychomonkey ** says this. Yeah why not?? Good thinking monkey :slight_smile:

Not as easy as it seems usually. Commonly these things require multiple genes to produce since they aren’t just proteins. We have no idea what genes these might be since we haven’t mapped the genomes for these plants. They also often require eliminating other competetive genes, and eliminating thes eoften kills the hostplant, so they in turn need to be replaced with foreign genes and so on.

Someone tried to produce a blue rose a few year ago. In theory one just clips the blue gene out of a violet or something and slpices it into a white rose. Didn;t work because of the problems mentioned above.

Yeah, see your point Blake. I use to work a gardening job with an older guy who carried on about “If I could create a truly black pansy I could retire, and have enough for you to retire too”. I was 18 at the time, so I suppose it would be difficult.

This thread is probably in grave danger of being shipped of to MPMIPS soon, oh well.

Where I live I see these huge weeds that very much resemble a male cannabis plant, except the leaves are connected at their bases instead of seperated. Seems to me that just by the simularity in appearance of these weeds that they could be hybridized/crossbred with cannabis, and produce THC. That’s just my observance though. My disclaimer again, I’m ignorant of the botanical genetics involved, kind of like you would think a coyote and a dog could breed (they can’t can they?).

Yep, dogs and coyotes interbreed all the time and the offspring is completely fertile. Of course just because two plants look physically the same doesn’t mean anything, it’s the reproductive structures taht they are classified on.

Blake said:

Really? I have never heard anything about it but didn’t think they could just out of my own intuition. I thought that if they actually could produce offspring, that they wouldn’t be fertile. I don’t know why I thought that, my buddy has a half wolf, not much different in concept. What about the plants though!!

Well a wolf-dog hybrid isn’t really a hybrid at all, just a breed. Dogs and wolves are the same species and so of ocurse interbreed quite freely. Coyotes and dogs/wolves on the other hand are separate species. It just doesn’t slow them down. Red wolves for example are natural hybrids between coyotes and wolves and hav existed for thousands of years.

And yeah, you can hybridise palnts and get shared traits. Bananas are an obvious example. Most roses are hybrids, as are most citrus including oranges and grapefruit. You just need to get two closely related species. But simply looking alike doesn’t signify anything.

Yeah I figured that looks don’t mean shiat, but couldn’t it be theoretically possible to genetically engineer a plant to produce something else? Not even specifically psychoactive properties anymore, but could you make a oak sprout apples with the right manipulation of genes.

Or is that like saying a dog could be genetically manipulated to have a kitten?

Theoretically, but pretty damn hard for the reasons given above. These are imperfectly understood processes caused by imperfectly understood proteins manufactures in a ccordance with imperfectly understood genes. Adding a single protein is fairly straightforward, so if the product is the result of one enzyme only it’s easy, Producing different fruit is reliant on so many proteins and protein systems that noboy actually knows. Even producing somthing like THC probably relies on umerous proteis working together.

Very tricky, but I have no doubt we will acheive it one day.

Yeah, seems tricky now, but some day…
I can’t think of that, too many other questions.

When that day comes, genetically engineered/manipulated plants, how do you think the drug war will be waged. I seriously doubt the focus will be on the borders of the US (sorry, I assumed whoever reads this lives here). What tactics and methods do you think will be used to fight that technology? (I know that unforseen advances in biochemicals, gene coding (there’s another topic, can genes be written like a computer program and installed w/ “anti-virus software”), and other technologies that we don’t normally think of will be used. If so what would these be?