Sweet History: You Should Thank 10 Million Years Of Cacao Tree Evolution For That Chocolate You Love


Chocolate lovers, the all-time favorite chocolate bars would not be here today without Cacao trees and scientists have found that they are much older than previously thought.

Scientists have found that genetic tweak and evolution of Cacao trees are to be thanked for one of the most favorite flavors in the world dating back to about 10 million years.

Chocolate, which comes from the seeds of cacao trees specifically Theobroma cacao, has been dubbed as the world's favorite flavors. With the increasing demand, supply is facing jeopardy as these trees lack genetic variation that make them more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and pest infestation.

Experts from the University of Rosario, University of the Andes in Colombia, University of Miami and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), found out that cacao trees have evolved for around 10 million years and are one of the oldest species in the genus Theobroma.

"We show for the first time that the source of chocolate, Theobroma cacao, is remarkably old for an Amazonian plant species," James Richardson, a tropical botanist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland, and study lead author said in a press release.

The chocolate industry has risen to a staggering $100 billion dollars per year worldwide. Thus, the world might face chocolate scarcity when cacao trees will not be able to adapt to changes in their habitat caused by global warming and increase of damaging pests.

They found that the two species could have been from the same area millions of years ago way before the Andes Mountains emerged. This theory would explain why similar species of trees can be seen on two sides of the mountains. Hence, geological events might have posed changes and adaptation on both species making the other produce delicious seeds made into chocolate today.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, reveals that cacao had enough time to evolve through the years. Scientists could breed wild populations of cacao in South America into cultivated strains to produce more damage-resistant genetic specie that could withstand the effects of climate change and pests. Also, they might even find new flavors of chocolates.

"The source of chocolate, Theobroma cacao, is remarkably old. After 10 million years of evolution, we should not be surprised to see a large amount of variation within the species. These varieties may contribute towards improving a developing chocolate industry," added Dr. Richardson. 

The team will go back to South America to conduct further studies on all species related to cacao and probe the properties of their populations. They noted that they want to showcase the importance of 'conversing biodiversity' that can be used to protect the chocolate agriculture and industry.

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