Around the world, in places 20º North and South of the equator, cacao is grown. Growing in tropical environments, cacao trees grow pods that contain beans that are the primary ingredient of chocolate. Unfortunately, fungal infestations have recently had a devastating impact on cacao farms, causing a wide range of diseases in the trees. The worldwide chocolate business which employs 50 million people, is at serious risk.
Scientists have begun to develop CRISPR technology that can alter the DNA of cacao plants to make them more resistant to both fungal and viral diseases. CRISPR is a gene-editing technology that works like a molecular pair of scissors, removing sections of DNA and replacing them with new ones.
Candy company Mars Inc. has supported the Innovative Genomics Institute in using CRISPR to engineer better cacao trees. It will take five to seven years for the genetically engineered cacao trees to grow their pods, so until then, we can’t be certain that the project has been successful.
The lessons learned by the scientists on this project are important as they translate into work that can be done on other, important food plants such as cassava, rice, and wheat.
For the original article on this project, click here.