Wednesday 12 December, 2018

No more chocolate? Scientists use gene editing to save cocoa plants

Photo via Wikipedia.

Photo via Wikipedia.

Imagine a world without chocolate.

With the effects of climate change and cocoa’s susceptibility to diseases, this frightening thought could become a reality unless measures are taken now, according to scientists at the University of California.

According to a World Economic Forum report, cocoa plants are slated to disappear by as early as 2050 as a result of warmer temperatures and drier weather conditions.

Cocoa plants can only grow in tropical climates, and the majority of the world’s chocolate supply originates from two West African countries: Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

However, in an effort supported in part by MARS Inc., scientists at the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) are working to engineer cacao trees that will be resistant to disease.

Director of plant genomics, Myeong-Je Cho and others at the IGI are using gene-editing technology CRISPR to ‘design’ plants that can survive new challenges.

The newly designed plants should be able to grow in drier, warmer climates, and hopefully survive the effects of climate change.

CRISPR is revolutionising the world of agriculture with the potential to make plants able to withstand challenges associated with climate change.

The study says by 2050, rising temperatures will force cocoa trees to grow in mountainous terrain, much of which is currently preserved for wildlife.

The institute also hopes to develop cocoa plants that don’t wilt or rot at their current elevations, thus saving many more crops.

UC Berkely geneticist Jennifer Doudna, one of the creators of CRISPR, is overseeing the project along with Mars.

Another project aims to protect cassava from the effects of climate change by changing its DNA to reduce less of a dangerous toxin.

For more on CRISPR see here: https://bit.ly/2Bp6W0d 

 

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