Can GMO's Save Chocolate?
Geege Schuman stashed this in Chocolate
Chocolate seems like a good use of GMO technology:
These people arenâ€™t likely to adopt a bean, no matter how prolific, that smacks of acidic dirt.
It may be time to turn to genetic engineering.
TheÂ genome of the cacao plantÂ has been sequenced as of 2011 (by two different groups of scientists, one affiliated withÂ Marsâ€“maker of Snickers, Milky Way, and M&Ms, the other with rivalÂ Hersheyâ€™s). From among chocolateâ€™s approximately 30,000 genes (that is, about 10,000 more than us), scientists have identified gene sequences that govern disease resistance and direct the production of helpful metabolites and flavor components. Molecular biologistÂ Mark GuiltinanÂ of Penn State University believes that such genetic analyses may eventually help produce disease-resistant, high-yield cacao plants.
To date, no GMO cacao has been developed for the field. Despite a host of positive safety studies, thereâ€™s tremendous public pressure to avoid genetically modified foodsâ€“and perhaps especially in our beloved bars and bonbons. In fact, many chocolate companies are now striving to become GMO-free, often a difficult process since it involves foregoing corn syrup and soy lecithinâ€“both common ingredients of chocolatesâ€“that are made from GMO crops. (According to a recent USDA report, â€śGenetically Engineered Crops in the United States,â€ť about 88 percent of American corn and 93 percent of American soybeans are genetically modified.)
Some researchers point out that creating an ideal GMO chocolate isnâ€™t going to be easy. Chocolate is a mind-bogglingly complex food, containing some 600 different flavor components. (Even red wine boasts a mere 200.) Cobbling together the right mix of flavorsâ€“along with disease-resistance, a rapid growth rate, and high productivityâ€“may prove to be an heroic task.
Still, given increasing world demand and the cacao treeâ€™s environmentally dicey future, it may be our best chance to save chocolate as we all know and love it.