REAL LIFE NEWS: CHOCOLATE UNDER THREAT
Recently, I told you how some unscrupulous trader was attempting to corner the cocoa market in Europe, thus leading to expected price rises in chocolates around Christmas time. Now comes even worse news: the world's supply of cocoa is under threat.
The problem is two virulent pathogens that threaten to devastate the world's cocoa crop, and all because cocoa trees in West Africa have no resistance to these fungal diseases, which go by the poetic names witch's broom and frosty pod. So the worry is that one of these diseases could cross the Atlantic and then spread via the wind, or by careless farmers - or, perhaps, bioterrorists. Scientists warn that it would only take a few infected pods to lead to the loss of one third of the total global production.
Which would be devastating news to chocoholics like me!
But scientists have a solution which they are racing to implement, and that is to breed plants that are resistant to infection. The traditional method of doing this is to identify naturally resistant plants, artificially pollinate them, then test the offspring. But this is a slow process. Fortunately, genetics comes to the rescue as scientists are working on sequencing the cacoa genome. Having that available would speed things up considerably, because they would be able to identify sections of the DNA that confer increased resistant, and select the best trees to breed.They expect to have a first draft of the genome by the end of this year, and then it will take a few more years to identify the genetic sites that are responsible for resistance to the fungal diseases. Strict quarantine measures have been institutes in West Africa in the meantime, so let's hope it's enough!