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Domestic researchers have succeeded in predicting the amounts of functional components such as caffeine and catechins that are contained in Japanese tea, based on the genetic information of young tea leaves.

Researchers from Shizuoka University and others were able to predict the component levels in mature tea trees for the first time by analyzing young leaves of newly germinated tea plants.

The technology will make it possible to drastically reduce the time needed to develop new tea strains, according to the team. An article on the study was published in the British journal Scientific Reports on Oct. 15.

The team analyzed the genetic information of young tea leaves that germinated in about three months, comparing it with data on the amounts of functional components of 150 types of tea plants held by Shizuoka Prefecture’s Tea Research Center.

Through the analysis, the team succeeded in predicting how much functional components would be found in a given tea plant before it grows.

Under conventional development methods, seeds of cross-bred tea plants are grown for four or five years into mature trees, whose leaves are turned into tea and evaluated. This process is repeated to refine the outcome.

By using the genomic prediction technology, developers can identify the tea plants they want soon after germination, reducing the time needed for development from between 20 and 30 years to 10 years or less. The technology also allows developers to use less land for breeding tea plants.

Takashi Ikka, associate professor at Shizuoka University’s Faculty of Agriculture, said that the Yabukita strain of tea plants make up some 75% of all Japanese tea and that the quality of tea has become uniform as a result.

“There is demand for new tea flavors, smells and colors, but this was unachievable,” he said. “By achieving custom-made tea breeding and supporting the development of strains sought by farmers and other producers, we want to change how tea is bred.”

“If the research is put to practical use, it will be possible to offer the perfect tea at the perfect time,” said Morihiko Yamamoto, 62, who cultivates, processes and sells tea leaves in Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture.

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