The production of high quality chocolate, and the farmers who grow it, will benefit from the recent sequencing and assembly of the chocolate tree genome, according to an international team led by Claire Lanaud of CIRAD, France, with Mark Guiltinan of Penn State, and including scientists from 18 other institutions.
The team sequenced the DNA of a variety of Theobroma cacao, considered to produce the world's finest chocolate. The Maya domesticated this variety of Theobroma cacao, Criollo, about 3,000 years ago in Central America, and it is one of the oldest domesticated tree crops. Today, many growers prefer to grow hybrid cacao trees that produce chocolate of lower quality but are more resistant to disease.
"Fine cocoa production is estimated to be less than 5 percent of the world cocoa production because of low productivity and disease susceptibility," said Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology.
The researchers report in the current issue of Nature Genetics "consumers have shown an increased interest for high-quality chocolate made with cocoa of good quality and for dark chocolate, containing a higher percentage of cocoa, while also taking into account environmental and ethical criteria for cocoa production."
Currently, most cacao farmers earn about $2 per day, but producers of fine cacao earn more. Increasing the productivity and ease of growing cacao can help to develop a sustainable cacao economy. The trees are now also seen as an environmentally beneficial crop because they grow best under forest shade, allowing for land rehabilitation and enriched biodiversity.
The team's work identified a variety of gene families that may have future impact on improving cacao trees and fruit either by enhancing their attributes or providing protection from fungal diseases and insects that effect cacao trees.
"Our analysis of the Criollo genome has uncovered the genetic basis of pathways lead
|Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer|