Saving Chocolate from Witches' Broom Disease
A world without chocolate just wouldn't feel right! Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are working very hard to make sure that never happens.
One of the worst diseases that threatens our chocolate supply has a funny name: witches' broom. But there's nothing funny about this disease that attacks cacao trees. Those trees' seeds, called "beans," are the source of chocolate.
Witches' broom is caused by a fungus. But ARS scientists have found other, beneficial fungi that might be able to help stop witches' broom.
The scientists found these fungi on the leaves and trunks of wild cacao trees in the Amazon Basin of Peru during expeditions in 2008 and 2009. They say those wild Peruvian cacao trees seemed to have a high level of resistance to witches' broom.
The ARS scientists also are working with the Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT), a research center in Peru, to identify new varieties of cacao that could be the source of new chocolate flavors.
The researchers are studying 342 cacao specimens collected from 12 watersheds and categorizing the genetic material, or DNA, of the specimens.
So ARS scientists are not only making sure we have a world with chocolate, but that we might even have new specialty chocolate flavors. That would be truly sweet!
— By Sharon Durham, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff.