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Cocoa sustainability: Mars, IBM, USDA publish cacao genome

Cocoa sustainability: Mars, IBM, USDA publish cacao genome

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Mars, the maker of M&Ms, IBM and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are making the cacao genome sequence publicly available. The game plan is to create a cacao plants that are more resistant to drought and disease while producing higher yields.

Mars, the maker of M&Ms, IBM and the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that they are making the cacao genome sequence publicly available. The game plan is to create a cacao plants that are more resistant to drought and disease while producing higher yields.

The joint research project is designed to improve on the cocoa growing process to create a sustainable supply so you'll continue to have a chocolate fix going forward.

Data from the cacao genome will be available at the Cacao Genome Database without a patent.

Mars has a vested interest in the cacao genome given that it needs it for chocolate. Mars adds that the findings won't benefit the bottom line initially, but will allay supply worries in the future. The cacao genome project was delivered three years early.

In a statement, Mars said:

(The project) marks a significant scientific milestone that is already starting to benefit millions of farmers, particularly in West Africa where more than 70 percent of the world's cocoa crop is produced. By making the results publicly available, scientists will have access to key learnings to advance plant science, while plant breeders and farmers around the world will be able to develop cacao trees that are more sustainable, and can better fend off the environmental assaults that inflict $700 to $800 million in damages to farmers' crops each year.

There were a lot of players in the cacao project. Mars provided most of the funding and IBM supplied the computing power with its Blue Gene supercomputer. Meanwhile, the USDA-ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami and researchers from UC Davis, Clemson, Indiana University, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and Washington State University participated.

From here, the group will analyze and characterize the cocoa genome for peer-reviewed publications.

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Larry Dignan

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Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure