CRISPR put to work to save chocolate from devastation

Jan 03, 2018, 02:27
CRISPR put to work to save chocolate from devastation

The root of the problem is the fact that chocolate grows in a narrow strip of rainforest about 20 degrees north and south of the equator, Business Insider explains. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, cacao trees can only grow within 20 degrees north or south of the equator, where conditions are just right - fairly constant warm temperatures, high humidity, high rainfall, low winds and rich soils, conditions one would expect from rainforests. Scientists blame climate change, disease and lack of water for declining crop and crop quality in the world's biggest cacao producing countries like the Ivory Coast. Late a year ago, a number of outlets reported that global warming might make chocolate taste better. Half of the world's chocolate is produced in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, where the plants thrive at around 300 to 850 feet above sea level and under dependably humid weather conditions. New technology, known as CRISPR, is being used by UC Berkeley scientists to modify the DNA of the plants.

The worst news to ever befall the world of very important (yet totally not important) things has just been announced: The existence of chocolate is in danger.

"We're trying to go all in here", Barry Parkin, Mars' chief sustainability officer, told Business Insider.

Jennifer Doudna, the geneticist who invented CRISPR, is overseeing the collaborative effort with Mars, the company behind Snickers and M&M's. The acronym stands for "Clustered Regularly Inter-Spaced Palindromic Repeats".

The team are also trying to tweak the DNA of cassava to make it produce less unsafe toxins in hotter weather.

Experts predict the world could run out of chocolate in the next thirty years - all thanks to global warming.

Research titled Destruction by Chocolate found that a typical western consumer chocolate eats an average of 286 chocolate bars a year - more if they are from Belgium. "Cacao transformation is really hard compared to other crops", he says.

Since the 1990s, more than a billion people from China, Indonesia, India, Brazil and the former Soviet Union have entered the market for cocoa.

Around 90% of more than 290 chocolate-producing locations will not remain suitable, according to the report. The regions where chocolate companies source most of their cacao are expected to grow more and more hostile to the plant over the next few decades, which will force farmers to look elsewhere unless something can be done.