The Science of Chocolate: Studying a Cacao Tree’s Genome

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A cacao pod containing cocoa beans hangs from a tree on a farm in Tulua, Colombia

REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

When searching for a mate, good genes spell all sorts of good things: brains, bravado, beauty. For chocolate companies, the same theory applies to their trees.

The AP has announced that researchers are closing in on a complete mapping of cacao trees’ DNA. With $10 million of support from Mars Inc. — the maker of Snickers, M&Ms and other major brands — the study aims to improve cocoa investments’ sustainability against common crop pests.

(More on “Chocolate Rain” in TIME’s 50 Best YouTube Videos)

As the CBC notes, approximately 2.7 million tons of cocoa is produced annually across the world. But farmers subsequently lose $700 to $800 million from the aftereffects of damages to cacao trees. By studying the genetic backbone of the plants, researchers believe they can produce trees with a higher immunity to disease, thereby improving the cacao pods’ overall yield.

For more, check out a fuller take on TIME’s Ecocentric blog.