13th November 2015

Ancient genetic heritage key to the 'Age of Chocolate'

An international team of researchers has published a paper showing that Theobroma cacao - the cocoa tree - is surprisingly old. Ten million years old in fact.

As a result, wild strains of cocoa in South America may contain much larger amounts of genetic variation than previously thought, which bodes well for breeding more diverse varieties that can better resist diseases, pests and climate change. Cocoa, like many cultivated agricultural crops, suffers from a lack of genetic variation.

"We hope to highlight the importance of conserving biodiversity so that it can be used to augment and safeguard the agricultural sector. By understanding the diversification processes of chocolate and its relatives we can contribute to the development of the industry and demonstrate that this truly is the Age of Chocolate," says co-author Dr Santiago Madriñán of the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

The age of chocolate: a diversification history of Theobroma and Malvaceae