While a world without chocolate is hardly a world in which I’d like to live, it’s a real possibility. Scientists have predicted the sweet treat could go extinct within the next 30 or so years—if something doesn’t change, that is.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in 2016 that there’s a strong possibility of mineral-rich cacao plants, which produce chocolate, being doomed by 2050. But all hope isn’t lost; the scientists at NOAA suggested the plants (and the billion-dollar industry surrounding their dessert-y by-product), could be saved by either planting selectively bred cacao seeds or by replanting and replenishing other rain forest species.
According to Scientific American, Mars Inc.—you know, the company that creates popular chocolate products like Snickers and M&Ms—is working to save the industry (and its VIP ingredient!) though gene editing.
Viruses, fungi, and human-caused climate change are the main drivers behind chocolate’s predicted demise, the magazine reports, and the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) was enlisted by Mars to use the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to help prevent entire tree farms from being wiped out.
“Cacao can be afflicted by several devastating conditions. We’re developing technologies to alter the DNA in cacao plants to become more resistant to both viral and fungal diseases.” —Brian Staskawicz, PhD
“Cacao can be afflicted by several devastating conditions,” said Brian Staskawicz, PhD, professor of plant and microbial biology at UC Berkeley and scientific director of IGI’s agricultural genomics program, in a statement. “We’re developing CRISPR editing technologies to alter the DNA in cacao plants to become more resistant to both viral and fungal diseases.”
This project hopefully won’t just help cacao, either; it could be useful for other crops that are taking a hit from fungi and bacteria as well. “Similar strategies should be useful for protecting a variety of plants from infection, including important crops like cassava, rice, and wheat,” Dr. Staskawicz added.