The Cacao Tree: a lifetime's history

Nov 13, 2015 | written by:

Bitter, dark, milk, white, with hazelnuts chocolate and so on and so forth. The delicious food derived from the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is now known and consumed all over the world and its origins are ancient.

A recent research published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution revealed indeed that the cocoa tree made its first appearance about 10 million years ago and that, hidden somewhere, there may be some genetic strains containing new flavors to find. The current crop of cocoa trees shows a very low level of genetic variation; this means that organisms are unable to adapt to a changing environment, thus leaving them susceptible to things like the sudden appearance of a new disease or climate change.

A group of researchers from Bogotà, Miami and Edinburgh, reviewed the development of the cocoa tree around the Andes using techniques such as molecular phylogenetics and tracing the changes in the DNA sequences. These studies have allowed to retrace the different evolutionary stages and to identify the moment in which, for reasons of adjustment, the species has diversified. There could be so many variants of the cocoa tree still hidden in the wild waiting to be found.

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