The Beeb reports (Cocoa genome ‘will save chocolate industry’, by Jason Palmer) an interesting development regarding the cacao tree genome. Candy company Mars buys large amounts of cocoa from places such as Cote d’Ivoire. A while back, one of its researchers, Dr. Howard Yana-Shapiro, realized that without genetic modification of cacao trees to make them higher yielding–to make more cocoa from fewer trees and less land–demand would outstrip supply within 50 years, leading to a “chocolate industry collapse.” Under Dr. Shapiro’s direction, an international, multidisciplinary consortium was formed including Mars, IBM, the US department of agriculture, and a number of universities, to sequence the Theobroma cacao genome. They finished three years ahead of schedule.
The whole of the genome has now been published, which will permit public access to the information and improvements to the cacao tree’s gene:
Now correlations between certain characteristics – such as disease and drought resistance or higher proportions of healthier fats – can be made in the field with the benefit of relatively inexpensive laboratory equipment. In this way, each region ensures it has strains that will produce the most, and the best, cocoa. …
The genome’s availability will likely lead to healthier, tastier chocolate.
Significantly, according to Dr. Shapiro, the genome has now been put “in the public domain and protected from patenting for perpetuity–so everyone would have free and continued access to it”. As the Mars press release notes, the results of the research effort “Will Make Findings Publicly Available for Common Good”. Mars and its partners are to be commended.