Cacao plants, and the chocolate that is made from their beans, could disappear as early as 2050. They thrive only in a region about 20 degrees north and south of the equator, and require rainforest-like conditions described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as "fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind". The technology allows scientists to edit the DNA of plants to make them sturdier and more resilient to new environmental challenges.
Officials in chocolate-producing countries such as Ghana will be forced to choose whether to push cacao production areas uphill into mountainous terrain, which could cause issue for wildlife.
To help cacao survive, the genomics institute is working with food and candy company Mars, as part of the candy company's $1 billion commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.
Between Cho, Doudna, and Mars' vast corporate funding, they intend to isolate genes that make the cacao plant so fragile and to replace them with more formidable genes, specifically ones that can withstand the changing climate that they will soon experience.
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Barry Parkin, Mars' chief sustainability officer, told Business Insider: "We're trying to go all in here..." One of the inventors of CRISPR, Jennifer Doudna, who's overseeing the project, has expressed concern about the implications of her technology and eugenics, but she seems optimistic about longer-lasting tomatoes.
Despite increased demand, supply has not been covered and cocoa stocks are believed to decline.
The average consumer eats 286 bars of chocolate a year (it's not often we can be smugly "above average".), but in order to produce that number, ten cacao trees must be planted.
Doug Hawkins, from London-based research firm Hardman Agribusiness, said production of cocoa is under strain as farming methods have not changed for hundreds of years.
"More than 90 per cent of the global cocoa crop is produced by smallholders on subsistence farms with unimproved planting material".