It would be unfortunate (and not unexpected) if it took this turn. But MAS
itself is a benign use of genetic information in agriculture.
On Thu, 16 Sep 2010 08:22:35 +1200, Robert Mann <[log in to unmask]>
> Within this article, reporter Yang states
> "The goal of the genome project is not to genetically
>engineer chocolate. "
> It is then asserted that the goal is marker-assisted
>selection (MAS), which is not GM but merely a valuable method for
>speeding the choices among progeny in breeding programmes.
> But it is quite likely that gene-jiggering of the cocoa plant
>is, at least vaguely, planned; at that rate, MAS would be a cover
>story, not false but an incomplete account of what is intended.
>With DNA of chocolate nearly decoded by scientists, could sweeter treats
>By Jia Lynn Yang
>Washington Post staff writer
>Wednesday, September 15, 2010;
>Scientists have painstakingly mapped the DNA of human beings, corn,
>turkeys - and now chocolate.
>A group of researchers led by McLean candy company Mars is nearly
>done sequencing the genome of the cacao tree, which produces the
>seeds used to make cocoa. The information will speed up the process
>for creating a stronger tree that is more resistant to disease and
>easier to grow for millions of farmers.
>And a better tree, they hope, means more chocolate for everyone for
>years to come.
>Rather than keep the delicious secrets to itself, the company behind
>M&M's and Snickers has decided to share the information with the
>"The information is so rich and so accurate we felt there was no
>reason to hold back," said Howard-Yana Shapiro, a Santa-bearded
>chocolate scientist whose technical title is global staff officer of
>plant science and research at Mars.
>The goal of the genome project is not to genetically engineer
>chocolate. Rather it's to improve the traditional method of breeding
>trees, a laborious, trial-and-error process in which researchers try
>to isolate the sweetest traits and replicate them. That can take as
>long as 15 years to complete.
>With a map of the cacao tree's genetic makeup, scientists could cut
>that process down to two or three years. For instance, they could
>extract the DNA of a young tree and see whether it has the right
>genes for resisting diseases instead of waiting years for the tree to
>But enough about the science. Bottom line: Will the new information
>result in better-tasting chocolate?
>Perhaps, Shapiro said. He noted that some discerning eaters have
>complained that the quality of cocoa has fallen in recent years, but
>no one knows whether that is because of soil, weather or genetics.
>At least one of the keys to flavor is the fatty acid content of the
>cocoa. "Now finally, we have insight on how to stabilize it and
>raise it over time," Shapiro said.
>The world's cocoa supply is grown mostly by small farmers because the
>process is so laborious.
>It begins with picking a pod off a cacao tree. The farmer then splits
>open the pod and scrapes the seeds out. Then the beans are fermented
>for a number of days, which is when they get their tasty chocolate
>flavor. Lastly the beans have to be dried.
>The cacao plant is especially hard to grow because it is highly
>vulnerable to pests and disease. According to Mars, farmers suffer
>$700 million to $800 million worth of damage every year.
>More than 70 percent of the world's cocoa supply comes from West
>Africa, where the biggest source is Cote d'Ivoire, followed by Ghana.
>Indonesia is the world's third-largest producer.
>Brazil used to be one of the top producers of cacao, until a fungus
>called witches'-broom struck the crop in the late 1980s and
>devastated the country's industry.
>"It was a wake-up call," Shapiro said. "Imagine what would happen if
>something hit Africa."
>The United States does not produce much cocoa, only a small amount in
>Hawaii and Puerto Rico. But because domestic companies such as Mars
>and Hershey's rely so much on the ingredient, the U.S. Department of
>Agriculture has been trying to breed a better cacao tree since 1999.
>In 2008, Mars, in partnership with
><http://projects.washingtonpost.com/post200/2007/IBM/>IBM and the
>USDA, began sequencing the cacao genome. Mars committed $10 million
>to the project and decided to share preliminary results with the
>public three years ahead of schedule.
>During their work sequencing the cocoa genome, researchers learned a
>few things about the raw makeup of chocolate.
>Its DNA is much easier to read compared with other crops, allowing
>scientists to yield more information about the cacao tree's
>characteristics, said David Kuhn, a USDA research molecular biologist
>based in Miami.
>So eating too much chocolate may be an indulgence that expands the
>waist. But, as it turns out, Kuhn said, "it's a very well-behaved