Candy company, scientists team up to save chocolate from extinction by 2050
Candy company Mars and scientists from the University of California are working on a technology that will ensure cacao plants can grow amid climate change.
According to a 2014 research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, if “business as usual” continues, countries that produce cacao will increase in temperature by 2.1°C.
The world’s leading producers are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia. The African countries count for over half of chocolate production globally.
The higher temperatures in West Africa would mean a lack of rainfall, which will cause cacao plants to die.
A solution would be to plant on higher ground. However, as in the case of Ghana, agricultural land is limited because forests are being preserved as natural habitats.
According to Business Insider, UC Berkeley geneticist Jennifer Doudna is leading the partnership with Mars to save chocolate with a genome editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9. Doudna herself has contributed research on it.
Mars, known for M&Ms, Snickers and 3 Musketeers, pledged $1 billion to reduce its carbon footprint by over 60 percent by 2050.
Part of this funding goes to UC Berkeley’s biosciences building where cacao seedlings are stored in refrigerated greenhouses.
Under the supervision of Myeong-Je Cho, the director of plant genomics, the plants’ DNA will be transformed to survive in a dryer climate.
The CRISPR/Cas9, a tool which finds a target DNA, binds an enzyme called Cas9 to the DNA and cuts it.
Projects in Doudna’s research lab aim to help farmers in the developing world. For instance, cassava DNA is being modified so that the crop doesn’t produce as much of a harmful toxin when it is in hotter temperatures.
Other potential uses are editing human genes—possibly producing controversial “designer babies”—and eliminating human diseases. Niña V. Guno /ra
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