With the intention of flooding 70% of the global cocoa supply with genetically modified (GMO) cocoa tree hybrids, a collaboration involving Mars, USDA and IBM is accelerating this process.
With primary funding from US chocolate producer Mars, the partnership includes scientists based at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US Department of Agriculture and Science as well as researchers working at IBM’s Thomas J Watson Research Center.
The scientists are determined to finalize gene sequencing of the cocoa genome which they say will "benefit" the chocolate industry and cocoa growers in West Africa where 70 percent of the world's cocoa is produced, and in other tropical zones.
According to the global head of plant science and research at the confectionery firm, Howard-Yana Shapiro, the sequence is of great importance.
"As plant breeders, we're always looking after the golden traits: pest and disease resistant, drought tolerance, the ability to adapt to climate change, tree architecture, yield quality, etc," said Dr Shapiro.
The researchers including ARS based molecular biologist David Kuhn and geneticist Raymond Schnell said that they released the findings of sequencing into the public domain in order to assist scientists to begin applying the findings immediately.
The results have been published on the Cacao Genome Database website.
The researchers state that it also means that cocoa will no longer be the ‘orphan crop’ compared to corn wheat and rice in terms of focused breeding research.
|Cocoa Consuming Countries
Source: UNCTAD based on the data from International Cocoa Organization, quaterly bulletin of cocoa statistics
Although cocoa is largely produced in developing countries, it is mostly consumed in industrialized countries. For cocoa, the buyers in the consuming countries are the processors and the chocolate manufacturers. A few multinational companies dominate both processing and chocolate manufacturing.
The United States, Germany and France make up more than half of the world's cocoa consumption with the United States by far the largest consumer. Consequently, should the effects of genetically modified cocoa result in unintended health effects or consequences to consumers, the US population will be the first to exhibit those effects on a mass scale.