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Scientists have sequenced the genomes of two trees that produce cocoa beans, the basic ingredient in chocolate and a crop which millions depend on for a living, according to AAP.

The report said researchers from food-maker Mars, technology giant IBM, several universities and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have almost completely sequenced the genome of the Forastero cacao tree, which accounts for 80-90% of the world’s cocoa production.

“It’s a tree that would be like a common grandparent of almost all the cocoa that is grown in the world,” David Kuhn, a biologist at the USDA and one of the leaders of the US sequencing effort was quoted saying.

In Europe, meanwhile, researchers from six countries, led by France’s Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (Cirad), sequenced the genome of the Criollo cacao tree, whose beans make up a much smaller percentage of global cocoa production.

“This work reveals the structure of the cacao tree genome and the existence of hundreds of genes which are potentially involved in giving the cacao tree its unique qualities and mechanisms for resisting diseases that seriously affect farmers,” Cirad said in a statement.

Mars, which includes “chocolate-related products” in the repertory of foods it makes, was the main funder of the USDA-led study.

Another US-based chocolatier, Hershey, was reportedly involved in the Cirad-led study, but calls to confirm that the Pennsylvania chocolate-maker funded the research went unanswered.

The two gene sequences will be used to accelerate the development of disease- and weather-resistant cacao trees whose beans produce high-quality, tasty cocoa, thus improving the lot of farmers and chocolate consumers worldwide, officials from the USDA and Cirad said. – Source: AAP


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