Penn State Researchers Are Protecting the Future of Chocolate

In *All by Ag is America

Penn State plant scientists have discovered by using a powerful gene-editing tool, researchers can increase disease resistance in cacao trees. Penn State is believed to be the first institution to demonstrate the feasibility of using the CRISPR gene-editing technology to remove a gene found to suppress the cacao plant’s disease resistance. By using CRISPR, the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, scientists are now able to improve and strengthen the cacao tree.

As the chocolate industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, a productive harvest is essential to the economies of cacao-producing countries and to the livelihoods of millions cacao farmers. The risk of disease stands as a persistent problem for cacao plants and for the farmers who are inevitably affected if there is crop loss. West African farmers in particular face severe outbreaks of fungal diseases that have the potential to destroy a whole farm of cacao. For this reason, breeding greater disease resistance in cacao is a priority for researchers. CRISPR technology is extremely efficient in targeting the genes researchers want to isolate to increase disease resistance. In addition to providing a new tool to accelerate breeding, CRISPR technology also helps deliver insights into the basic biology of the plant.

To ensure the productive future of cacao, the need for plants that are disease resistant and still produce high quality beans is essential. Penn State’s research serves as a ‘proof of concept’ that CRISPR technology can be a valuable tool to achieving these goals. In addition to this discovery, Penn State cacao research aims to help raise the standard of living for individual growers and ensure a prosperous cocoa supply that can withstand disease and other challenges growers face.

To learn more about this research from Penn State, read more here.

 

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