by Ismail Akwei, at 10:57 am, February 12, 2018, Business, Technology

Scientists are tweaking DNA of cacao plants to prevent chocolate extinction

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the demand for chocolates increases drastically since lovers prefer to gift their partners with the sweet brown treat believed to be a symbol of affection.

Americans are estimated to spend $1.8 billion on chocolate and candy this holiday, according to the National Retail Federation.

This might not be the case anymore in 40 years as research has proved that cacao plants – whose seeds are used to produce chocolates – could disappear by as early as 2050 due to climate change.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, rising temperatures will push today’s chocolate-growing regions more than 1,000 feet uphill into mountainous terrain.

This harrowing information gave way to a research by the University of California to make tiny, precise tweaks to the cacao plant’s DNA to be able to grow unhindered.

The university is collaborating with food and candy company Mars to explore the possibility of using the gene-editing technology CRISPR to make the crops survive the new challenges, reports Business Insider.

Myeong-Je Cho, the director of plant genomics at the university said the cacao seedlings under research will soon be capable of surviving in the dryer, warmer climate that is sending chills through the spines of farmers across the globe.

The CRISPR is also being used to modify other products such as cassava to produce less of a dangerous toxin that it makes in hotter temperatures.

Jennifer Doudna, the UC Berkeley geneticist who invented CRISPR, said her application won’t be on humans but on food. She received a lot of attention over the potential of her tool to genetically eradicate human diseases and make so-called “designer babies”.

She has also licensed the technology to agricultural company DuPont Pioneer for use in crops like corn and mushrooms.

Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in West Africa are the world’s largest producers of cacao and their economies are largely dependent on its exports. With this genetically modified cacao seedlings, they may lose their place and livelihood in cacao production if the 2050 extinction deadline doesn’t materialize.

Will you eat a genetically modified chocolate? Tell us your views in the comments section below.

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