Chocolate capable of fighting heart disease and offering other major health benefits could be available within five years following work by scientists to unlock the genetic code of the cocoa tree.
The funding was provided by a combination of public and private money:
Researchers working with confectionary giant Mars are scouring the genome of the tree Theobroma cacao to find ways of enhancing the health benefits of cocoa beans produced by the plant.
Scientists took two years to unlock the genetic code of the tree and now hope to use the information it contains to improve the quality, flavour and nutritional value of the beans, which are used to produce chocolate.
The researchers also hope to increase other health qualities that have been attributed to chocolate such as increasing brain function and combating diabetes, while also working to make the fat it contains healthier.
Dr Howard-Yara Shapiro, who is global director of plant science and research at Mars Incorporated, said: “The idea is that this is something that will become the norm – healthy fats, high levels of flavonols.
But before progressives whine about evil corporations tainting chocolate with engineered cocoa, the democratic principles of scientific information being free and open, echoed in free market economics, were observed:
Dr Shapiro, who is also a professor of environmental sciences at the University of California, persuaded Mars to fund the $10 million project to decode the genome, with the help of computer firm IBM, which analysed the data, and the US Department of Agriculture.
In a little over two years they were able to disentangle the 420 million units of DNA that make up the plant and in an unusual move for a private company, rather than patent the genome, they have now published it online making it available for anyone to use for free.
For the die-hard chocolate lovers and science geeks: The Cacao Genome Database. Bravo to Mars for stimulating competition in the chocolate market – with science! The results should be delicious.