London: Chocolate could be combating heart disease and conferring other major health benefits within five years.
Researchers are scouring the genome of the tree theobroma cacao to find ways of enhancing the health benefits of cocoa beans produced by the plant.
They took two years to unlock the genetic code of the tree and now hope to use the information it contains to improve the quality, flavour and nutritional value of the beans, which are used to produce chocolate.
They believe they can boost the levels of compounds known as flavonols in the beans, reports the Telegraph.
Flavonols have been found in recent research to improve blood pressure and have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system.
Howard-Yara Shapiro, professor of environmental sciences at the University of California, US, said: "The idea is that this is something that will become the norm - healthy fats, high levels of flavonols."
"Chocolate will become something quite different in 10-15 years and we are on that track now," he said, according to a University of California release.
"It is not something we can deliver tomorrow, but maybe in five years we can."
Shapiro persuaded Mars Incorporated to fund the $10 million project to decode the genome, with the help of computer firm IBM, which analysed the data, and the US Department of Agriculture.
Shapiro and his team are now searching the cocoa tree`s 34,997 genes in the attempt to select key traits that will improve the plants and the chocolate that comes from them.