London: The public release of the genome of the cacao tree – which produces chocolate – will not only ensure that the chocolate industry is saved from collapse, but also that it would be a lot more tastier and healthier.
Howard Yana-Shapiro, a researcher for Mars, said that without engineering higher-yielding cacao trees, demand would outstrip supply within 50 years.
Yana-Shapiro said the genome would also help biodiversity and farmers`` welfare in cacao-growing regions.
Multidisciplinary effort between firms including Mars and IBM, the US department of agriculture and a number of universities resulted in the sequencing of the genome.
"In late 2007, it became very apparent to me that we would not have a continuous supply of cocoa going into the future if we did not intervene on a massive scale to secure our supply chain,” a news channel quoted Shapiro as saying at an event at IBM’s research labs in Zurich.
"Cote d``Ivoire is the largest producer of cocoa in the world. Mars has bought cocoa from there for sixty years - but when we started to understand the environmental and ecological conditions, the productivity, sociocultural and economic conditions, I realised this was a moment of crisis for this region,” he added.
What is needed is to make more cocoa from fewer trees and less land. Under Shapiro’s direction, the consortium sequenced the Theobroma cacao genome in a remarkably short time, finishing three years ahead of schedule.
"Soon it will be the norm as opposed to the exception: healthy fats, high levels of flavinols, so that chocolate will actually become something quite different. Whether that’s 10, 15 20 years away, it’s on that track now," he said.
"It gives you social stability in the rural sector, it gives you cultural stability that doesn’t break up the rural sector, it gives you environmental stabilty because we’re reducing the risk to the environment from agricultural chemistry, it gives you ecological stability because we’re protecting the remnant forest, it also sequesters carbon," Shapiro added.
"This is the really ‘Green Revolution’ of understanding the entire ecosystem from which you are working."