A decade ago, the tequila industry was pummelled by plant diseases. Rex Dalton meets the scientists working to keep the blue agave diverse enough to survive.
For centuries, artisans working in the adobe haciendas of Mexico's rural valleys have followed tradition to make the powerful spirit tequila. Copying age-old indigenous techniques, they distilled the liquor from sweet juice cooked out of the fat stems of a local succulent, the blue agave (Agave tequilana Weber, var. But in recent years, tequila makers have had to bring the latest science to the agricultural process to save both the industry and the culture it supports. Some of the oldest and biggest producers are employing scientists, building high-tech laboratories and funding academic research on the blue agave so that researchers from biochemists to geneticists can scrutinize this little-understood plant. The shift began nearly a decade ago, when disease and pests wiped out much of Mexico's crop of blue agave. The plants are grown in expansive ranches, as a single agave takes years to reach maturity for harvest. But those huge monocultural crops, planted to slake the worldwide thirst for tequila, are also an ideal place for disease to spread. Tequila was nearly destroyed by its own popularity.
Via Kamoun Lab @ TSL