Caterpillars: And Coffee

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Caterpillars and coffee? Well, there is a connection – stay tuned. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

“When you drink a cup of coffee you are drinking it to get the caffeine. That means that the 6 million people in the Philadelphia area are putting into the city sanitation system something on the order of 100 to 500 pounds of caffeine a day. Now where’s all that caffeine go?”

Well, not to pick on Philadelphia — any municipal water system faces the question of what to do with all that caffeine. Now Dan Janzen is a professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies the ecosystem of the Cost Rican rainforest and he thinks that caterpillars could help us find a solution to this challenge.

“Well, in nature what happens to that caffeine, because it comes out of coffee plants, in nature there’s a bacterial community that degrades those. And in caterpillars who can eat the leaves of a coffee plant, there’s a special gut community who eats caffeine inside of those caterpillars.”

In other words there’s a group of microbes inside certain caterpillars which can effectively neutralize caffeine. But what happens to all that caffeine that we pour down the drain every day?

“Well it’s a major problem, as a matter of fact. Because then it goes through the city sanitation system and right into the water supply. It goes out into wherever the actual final wastes go from the city sanitation because they haven’t got a way yet to degrade it. The reason why I bring this up is because I’m thinking maybe we should be looking at those bacterial communities in nature who degrade things like caffeine, and ask can we make a culture of those things that you could run the city sanitation stuff through, and that way take care of the caffeine problem.”

Caterpillars to the rescue. Well in future programs we’ll find out how caterpillars and the microbes that they play host to can help us with caffeine and other substances that we’d like to safely degrade.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.

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Caterpillars: And Coffee

What do coffee, caterpillars, and water purity have in common?
Air Date:10/03/2001
Scientist:
Transcript:


music

Caterpillars and coffee? Well, there is a connection - stay tuned. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

"When you drink a cup of coffee you are drinking it to get the caffeine. That means that the 6 million people in the Philadelphia area are putting into the city sanitation system something on the order of 100 to 500 pounds of caffeine a day. Now where's all that caffeine go?"

Well, not to pick on Philadelphia -- any municipal water system faces the question of what to do with all that caffeine. Now Dan Janzen is a professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies the ecosystem of the Cost Rican rainforest and he thinks that caterpillars could help us find a solution to this challenge.

"Well, in nature what happens to that caffeine, because it comes out of coffee plants, in nature there's a bacterial community that degrades those. And in caterpillars who can eat the leaves of a coffee plant, there’s a special gut community who eats caffeine inside of those caterpillars."

In other words there's a group of microbes inside certain caterpillars which can effectively neutralize caffeine. But what happens to all that caffeine that we pour down the drain every day?

"Well it's a major problem, as a matter of fact. Because then it goes through the city sanitation system and right into the water supply. It goes out into wherever the actual final wastes go from the city sanitation because they haven’t got a way yet to degrade it. The reason why I bring this up is because I’m thinking maybe we should be looking at those bacterial communities in nature who degrade things like caffeine, and ask can we make a culture of those things that you could run the city sanitation stuff through, and that way take care of the caffeine problem."

Caterpillars to the rescue. Well in future programs we'll find out how caterpillars and the microbes that they play host to can help us with caffeine and other substances that we'd like to safely degrade.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.

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