We already know much about the threat of climate change to staple crops such as wheat, maize and rice, but the impact on tea is just coming into focus.
Early research indicates that tea grown in some parts of Asia could see yields decline
by up to 55% thanks to drought or excessive heat, and the quality of the tea is also falling.
The intensive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in tea plantations has also led to soil degradation
at an average annual rate of 2.8%. This also causes chemical runoff into waterways, which can lead to serious problems for human health and the environment.
DNA to the rescue
However, hope may be on the horizon now that scientists at the Kunming Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have sequenced the entire tea genome
Mapping the exact sequence of DNA in this way provides the foundation for extracting all the genetic information needed to help breed and speed up development of new varieties of the tea plant. And it could even help improve the drink's flavor and nutritional value.
In particular, the whole tea tree genome reveals the genetic basis for tea's tolerance to environmental stresses, pest and disease resistance, flavor, productivity and quality.