Good news for chocolate lovers

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A public-private research partnership has identified the cacao genome sequence, a discovery that could help farmers grow more robust, higher-yielding and healthier cocoa trees.

The study, originally scheduled to take five years, was finished in just two. The research was jointly sponsored by McLean-based Mars Inc., the maker of popular candies such as M&M’s and Snickers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service and IBM.

The group is making its discovery open to the public at to allow scientists to apply the findings to crop research and help breeders and farmers to create trees that are more sustainable.

The partnership was established to create a more sustainable cocoa supply. Cocoa trees are often afflicted by pests and diseases.

“Genome sequencing helps eliminate much of the guess-work of traditional crop cultivation,” Howard-Yana Shapiro, global head of plant science and research at Mars, said in a statement. “Cocoa is what some researchers describe as an ‘orphan crop,’ because it has been the subject of little agricultural research compared to corn, wheat and rice.  This effort, which will allow fast and accurate traditional breeding, is about applying the best of what science has to offer in taking an under-served crop and under-served population and giving them both the chance to flourish.” 

Mars was the primary investor in the research. The collaboration will continue to analyze the cocoa genome to submit to peer-reviewed publications.

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