Can biotechnology help protect the world’s chocolate supply?

Image: Running Life

[K]eeping pace with global cravings can be a tall order for chocolate producers — a challenge made even tougher as climate change and disease threaten the world’s cocoa supply. The threat has prompted major industry players like the candy bar giant, Mars — which makes Snickers, M&M’s, and Dove chocolate, among other products — to find a solution in biotechnology.

[T]he company announced that it hired Benson Hill Biosystems, a Creve Coeur [Missouri]-based biotech firm, to outfit it with computing tools to help develop more resilient cacao trees, which produce the beans used to make chocolate.

“Cacao is a pretty fragile crop …. ” said Howard Shapiro, the chief agricultural officer for Mars. “Forty percent of the crop is lost each year due to fungal, viral, and pest problems.

Related article:  Climate change boosted banana production for 60 years, but hotter temperatures could finally cut yield gains

Benson Hill will equip the company’s cacao experts …. with a software platform that uses data on plant genetics and traits to speed up and streamline the breeding process …. the computational breeding technique uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to couple plants’ genomic information with records of their physical traits ….

“Say instead of taking 10 years, we can take 5 years. Instead of taking 10,000 options, let’s start with the best 500,” Kesler said. “We simulate those offspring with machine learning to predict the quality of those offspring ….

Read full, original article: Biotech company aims to help candy giant Mars make a more resilient cacao tree

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