United States Department Of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service
Chocolove funds projects at the USDA Cocoa Research Station. Our funding is spent on a number of projects related to collecting, genetic fingerprinting, and preserving as many varieties of Theobroma cacao as possible. The cocoa seed, unlike most seeds, cannot be stored and remain viable. In order to preserve species, the cocoa plant must be kept growing and producing. Part of our funding goes to rapid and mass propagation methods that could make thousands of plants in a short time to respond to disease or weather damaged regions. Saving all the unique varieties we can find maintains genetic diversity so that the farmer has good varieties to plant that can resist disease with minimal or no chemical use and provide good yields with fewer soil amendments. Reducing inputs while reducing loss and increasing yield raises farmer revenue.
Chocolove helped to establish ~40 accessions for the USDA Cocoa Research Station. They wrote to Chocolove in regards to the help we provided: "We continue to work with our cacao genetic resources by adding accessions and characterizing the established clones. The ~40 accessions that you helped establish are doing great. Most of them are beginning to bear fruit (with some producing a significant production). We will have to wait at least one more year/season before beginning to evaluate these in earnest. We want most trees to be about 3-years of age before we begin to collect data. We just finished off a project on characterizing the D.R. cacao genetic resources (submitting manuscript soon). This was a challenging project, but rewarding. We are in the process of organizing a workshop for cacao production here in P.R. There has been much interest by the local farmers in the potential for cacao production on the island. We will see."
More information on the Puerto Rican Cacao Project can be found at: www.ars-grin.gov/may/prcacao/index.html
The copy below is taken verbatim from the USDA Agricultural Research Service website. The USDA ARS is one of the world's premier scientific organizations. Visit www.ars.usda.gov to learn more.
ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to
- Ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products
- Assess the nutritional needs of Americans
- Sustain a competitive agricultural economy
- Enhance the natural resource base and the environment
- Provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole
Sequencing Of Cacao Genome Will Help U.S. Chocolate Industry, Subsistence Farmers In Tropical Regions
By Dennis O'Brien
September 15, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists and their partners have announced the preliminary release of the sequenced genome of the cacao tree, an achievement that will help sustain the supply of high-quality cocoa to the $17 billion U.S. chocolate industry and protect the livelihoods of small farmers around the world by speeding up development, through traditional breeding techniques, of trees better equipped to resist the droughts, diseases and pests that threaten this vital agricultural crop.
The effort is the result of a partnership between USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS); Mars, Inc., of McLean, Va., one of the world's largest manufacturers of chocolate-related products; scientists at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown , N.Y.; and researchers from the Clemson University Genomics Institute, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Washington State University, Indiana University, the National Center for Genome Resources, and PIPRA (Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture) at the University of California-Davis.
Team leaders from USDA included molecular biologist David Kuhn and geneticist Raymond Schnell, both at the ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami, Fla., and ARS computational biologist Brian Scheffler at the Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center in Stoneville, Miss. ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of USDA. This research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security, and USDA's commitment to agricultural sustainability.
"Because of the talent and dedication brought together by this unique partnership, researchers and plant breeders will be able to accelerate the genetic improvement of the cacao crop now cultivated in tropical regions around the world," said Edward B. Knipling, ARS administrator. "This will benefit not only the chocolate industry, but also millions of small farmers who will be able to continue to make their living from cacao."
Cocoa comes from the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. The tree seeds are processed into cocoa beans that are the source of cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate. But fungal diseases can destroy seed-bearing pods and wipe out up to 80 percent of the crop, and cause an estimated $700 million in losses each year.
Worldwide demand for cacao now exceeds production, and hundreds of thousands of small farmers and landholders throughout the tropics depend on cacao for their livelihoods. An estimated 70 percent of the world's cocoa is produced in West Africa.
Scientists worldwide have been searching for years for ways to produce cacao trees that can resist evolving pests and diseases, tolerate droughts and produce higher yields. ARS researchers have been testing new cacao tree varieties developed with genetic markers. But having the genome sequenced is expected to speed up the process of identifying genetic markers for specific genes that confer beneficial traits, enabling breeders to produce superior new lines through traditional breeding techniques.
Sequencing cacao's genome also will help researchers develop an overall picture of the plant's genetic makeup, uncover the relationships between genes and traits, and broaden scientific understanding of how the interplay of genetics and the environment determines a plant's health and viability.
The genome sequence will be released into the public domain, with access to these data online via the Cacao Genome Database (www.cacaogenomedb.org) prior to formal peer-reviewed publication. This release will enable the sequence data to be applied immediately to cacao genetic improvement.
The research team will continue to improve the quality and analyze the properties of the cacao genome sequence in preparation for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Sequencing The Cacao Genome To Safeguard Chocolate
By Alfredo Flores
June 26, 2008
During the past 15 years, the global cocoa industry has confronted a trio of devastating fungal diseases that cost growers an estimated $700 million in losses annually. Now scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Subtropical Horticultural Research Station (SHRS) in Miami, Fla., are developing productive cacao (Theobroma cacao) trees resistant to these diseases: witches' broom, frosty pod and black pod.
The research has been based upon traditional varietal selection and breeding, enhanced by the use of molecular (DNA-derived) markers associated with disease resistance.
Field trials involving foreign cooperators are under way in South America, West Africa, Central America and Papua New Guinea to evaluate potential disease-resistant cocoa trees. Several of these tree selections were based upon disease-tolerance genes discovered in Miami.
Since 1999, ARS researchers at the SHRS, led by plant geneticist Ray Schnell, have worked in partnership with Mars Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of chocolate-related products, to apply modern molecular genetic techniques to cocoa production.
This research, in collaboration with institutes in the Americas and Africa, has produced genetic linkage maps for cacao populations, segregating for resistance to the three fungal diseases. Today a new partnership was announced between ARS, Mars Inc., and IBM with the goal of sequencing the entire cacao genome. Once completed, the research results will be released into the public domain.
The partnership to sequence the cacao genome is financially backed and coordinated by Mars Inc. of McLean, Va. Scientific support is provided by SHRS in Miami, in collaboration with scientists at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. The IBM team will use its Blue Gene supercomputer to analyze the cocoa genome. This is the first time that all three research groups are collaborating.
In addition to the three major partners, Washington State University will assist Schnell in developing detailed genetic maps and assembling the sequence fragments into the complete genome sequence.
ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Plant genetic resources are the foundation for agricultural production systems, and their safety, health, and genetic integrity must be maintained via efficient and cost-effective long-term preservation in genebanks. The TARS is a National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) official site responsible for acquiring, propagating, maintaining, characterizing and distributing a number of agricultural crops critically important to the U.S. economy. One of the site's important priority genera is cacao (Theobroma cacao L.); a tropical understory tree from which the world's chocolate is manufactured. The significant U.S. chocolate confectionary industry relies on the raw material produced in tropical developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Production constraints, including insect and disease pests, lack of improved varieties, and aging farms are some of the problems facing many of the small-holder producers around the world. In efforts to improve productivity, sustainability and farmer's livelihoods the USDA-ARS commits resources for the much needed research. Although several USDA-ARS sites are involved in cacao research, the TARS is the only site involved in the strategic long-term conservation of plant genetic resources. Research at the TARS specifically focuses on effective and efficient conservation and is carried out by estimating genetic diversity, by identifying gaps in coverage of existing collections, by eliminating redundant germplasm and by assuring genetic integrity.
The United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service and its project housed at the Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS) in Mayaguez Puerto Rico entitled, 'Management of Tropical/Subtropical Plant Genetic Resources and Associated Information' has been working in collaboration with Chocolove Inc. since 2008 on long-term plant conservation efforts. Current Chocolove Inc. collaborations involve support for graduate student research focusing on the characterization of 'naturalized' cacao populations in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico's agriculture during Spanish colonization saw several concerted efforts at producing cacao on a commercial scale. History shows that in the 1600s cacao was one of the most important Puerto Rican export crops. However, competition from other producing countries as well as inclement weather caused losses and cacao crops were abandoned. Published historical evidence shows that large cacao plantations were established in Puerto Rico from propagative (seed) material introduced from several locations including northern South America (e.g., Ecuador and Venezuela) as well as from Central America. Cacao is no longer commercially grown, but remnants of these large plantations, or at least the cacao trees, can be found throughout the island.
Recent collecting and sampling of some of the 'naturalized' cacao trees on local farms have provided evidence to show a 'Criollo' background based on visual observations of the fruit with 'white' beans. 'Criollo' genetic backgrounds have been associated with fine flavored chocolate and are particularly underrepresented in the existing germplasm collection at TARS. Puerto Rico's farms and cacao trees will be systematically surveyed and collected. Descriptive information on history, locality, morphology and traits will be taken as well as leaf samples from DNA genetic analysis. DNA for analysis is extracted from individual leaf samples collected and the genetic information is compared to each other to show relationships. Unique germplasm identified will be collected, propagated, planted and preserved at the TARS where it will be evaluated for its horticultural potential, its organoleptic qualities and made available for distribution. "International exchange and movement of cacao is a resource-intensive process that does not happen readily. Why not describe and conserve genetic diversity which already present on the island?"