The public release of the genome of the cacao tree – from which chocolate is made – will save the chocolate industry from collapse, a scientist has said. Howard Yana-Shapiro, a researcher for Mars, said that without engineering higher-yielding cacao trees, demand would outstrip supply within 50 years.
Dr Yana-Shapiro said such strains will also help biodiversity and farmers’ welfare in cacao-growing regions. The genome’s availability will likely lead to healthier, tastier chocolate. “Soon it will be the norm as opposed to the exception: healthy fats, high levels of flavinols, so that chocolate will actually become something quite different. Whether that’s 10, 15 20 years away, it’s on that track now.”
Higher yields will free up land for other under-utilised crops in the region such as yams, sorghum and plantains. Dr Shapiro sees such small changes – that a chocolate consumer never sees – as a tangible human benefit of science-driven agriculture.