Scientists have warned that the increase in warmer global temperatures and dryer weather conditions could pose a threat to the survival of the fragile cocoa plant, leading to the disappearance of chocolate as early as 2050.
To avoid same, scientists are exploring the possibility of using the gene-editing technology CRISPR to evolve crops that can survive environmental challenges.
Study: Key Details
• The scientists from the University of California are going to team up with the food and candy company Mars to explore CRISPR technique in order to help tiny cocao seedlings to survive and thrive in the dryer, warmer climate.
• The cacao tree, which produces cocoa beans, can only grow within a narrow strip of rain forested land roughly 20 degrees north and south of the Equator, where temperature, rain and humidity all stay relatively constant throughout the year.
• However, the fragile plant is under threat from diseases and a changing climate that will suck moisture from the soil and make it impossible to produce a good crop in many regions around the world by 2050.
According to experts, most of the cocoa is produced by poor families who cannot afford fertilisers and pesticides.
More than 90 per cent of the global cocoa crop is produced by smallholders on subsistence farms with unimproved planting material.
What Is CRISPR?
• CRISPR stands for clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.
• The technology is a simple yet powerful tool for editing genomes.
• It allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function.
• Its many potential applications include correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases and improving crops.
How does it work?
• CRISPR technology was adapted from the natural defense mechanisms of bacteria and archaea (the domain of single-celled microorganisms).
• These organisms use CRISPR-derived RNA and various Cas proteins, including Cas9, to foil attacks by viruses and other foreign bodies.
• They do so primarily by chopping up and destroying the DNA of a foreign invader.
• When these components are transferred into other, more complex, organisms, it allows for the manipulation of genes or editing.