Saving Chocolate Through Genetics

Geek Culture

"Witches’ broom," "frosty pod," and "black pod" may sound like exotic plants out of a fantasy novel, but they’re diseases that are all too real to cacao farmers all over the world.  Cacao, which is of course the chief ingredient in chocolate, has seen its worldwide crop devastated by those three phages over the past fifteen years.  If you’ve noticed the price of chocolate rising, they’re responsible.

A plan has been in the works since 1999, funded by an obviously self-interested Mars Inc., to identify and breed disease-resistant strains of cacao tree.  But now comes news of a partnership between Mars, IBM, and the Agricultural Research Service arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to sequence the entire cacao genome.  Once done, they will release the results into the public domain.  Can open source chocolate be far behind?

I applaud these efforts wholeheartedly.  Can there be a more noble cause for science than ensuring the future of chocolate on Earth?  Well, all right: curing cancer; but this is right up there.  If our kids have inexpensive chocolate when they’re our age, it will probably be because of this project.

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