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 TIME.com: “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.

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