Sep 252010
 
Cacao tree with fruit pods
Image via Wikipedia

A blight is threatening the world’s cocoa supply. Will genetic intervention save our desserts?

In a rare tale of technology, bio terrorism and chocolate, scientists are racing to sequence the cacao tree genome. They fear that without the genome in hand they will be unable to stop the spread of two virulent pathogens that threaten to devastate the world’s cocoa crop.

Cacao trees were first domesticated more then 1,500 years ago by Mayans living in what is now Central America, but fungal diseases such as witch’s broom and frosty pod have largely chased the bean out of its native habitat. The great worry is that one of these diseases will cross the Atlantic Ocean to West Africa, where 70 percent of the crop is now produced. Cacao trees in West Africa have no resistance to the pathogens, which form spores and spread via the wind, careless farmers and, in at least one case, bioterrorists. Scientists say that just a few infected pods would lead to the loss of one third of total global production.

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