Cacao Tree Genome Sequenced

The production of high quality chocolate, and the farmers who grow it, will benefit from the recent sequencing and assembly of the chocolate tree genome, according to an international team led by Claire Lanaud of CIRAD, France, with Mark Guiltinan of Penn State, and including scientists from 18 other institutions.

Finest Chocolate May Get Better: Cacao Tree Genome Sequenced

The team sequenced the DNA of a variety of Theobroma cacao, considered to produce the world's finest chocolate. The Maya domesticated this variety of Theobroma cacao, Criollo, about 3,000 years ago in Central America, and it is one of the oldest domesticated tree crops. Today, many growers prefer to grow hybrid cacao trees that produce chocolate of lower quality but are more resistant to disease. "Fine cocoa production is estimated to be less than 5 percent of the world cocoa production because of low productivity and disease susceptibility," said Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology. The researchers report in the current issue of Nature Genetics "consumers have shown an increased interest for high-quality chocolate made with cocoa of good quality and for dark chocolate, containing a higher percentage of cocoa, while also taking into account environmental and ethical criteria for cocoa production. " State, and a member of the research team. "It has also led to the discovery of hundreds of genes potentially involved in pathogen resistance, all of which can be used to accelerate the development of elite varieties of cacao in the future." Because the Criollo trees are self-pollinating, they are generally highly homozygous, possessing two identical forms of each gene, making this particular variety a good choice for accurate genome assembly. The researchers assembled 84 percent of the genome identifying 28,798 genes that code for proteins. They assigned 88 percent or 23,529 of these protein-coding genes to one of the 10 chromosomes in the Criollo cacao tree. They also looked at microRNAs, short noncoding RNAs that regulate genes, and found that microRNAs in Criollo are probably major regulators of gene expression.

 

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