Climate change has been blamed for the endangerment or extinction of many a plant or animal species. And with a new report claiming that chocolate could go extinct in less than 40 years from now due to the effect of warmer weather on cacao plants, many have seen this as a cause of concern, what with chocolate being a favorite sweet treat for young and old alike. But there does appear to be hope for the cacao plant going forward, thanks to a new initiative that has the backing of one of the world’s largest and well-known candy makers.
The original report on the potential extinction of cacao plants came from Business Insider, which wrote on Sunday that the two countries in West Africa where most of the world’s chocolate originates from — Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana — might not be suitable for growing cacao in a few decades from now. With climate change expected to keep world temperatures rising in the decades to come, it is reportedly expected that by 2050, present-day chocolate-growing regions might have to grow cacao plants more than 1,000 feet uphill. Most of these mountainous areas are preserved for wildlife, which could potentially put the plants at risk.
With these possible issues in mind, Business Insider wrote that candy company Mars has teamed up the University of California-Berkeley to work on a broad initiative that seeks to reduce its business and supply chain’s carbon footprint by at least 60 percent once 2050 hits. This campaign, which benefited from a $1 billion pledge from Mars in September 2017, includes a project where a team of UC-Berkeley scientists is keeping cacao seedlings in refrigerated greenhouses, with the hope that the seedlings can grow into cacao plants that won’t wilt or rot at present-day elevations. This could eliminate the need to relocate cacao farms to higher ground if climate change becomes a problem as expected.
In order to tweak the cacao plants in such a way that they can withstand dryer, warmer weather in the years to come, the UC-Berkeley scientists will be using the controversial DNA-editing technique CRISPR. While there has been great debate over the ethical implications of a technique that could allegedly allow for the creation of “designer babies,” Business Insider noted that CRISPR has been used in crops to make them “cheaper and more reliable,” and shows the potential to prevent plants from being harmed by the negative effects of climate change, such as a lack of water and increased exposure to pests.
According to Business Insider, the UC-Berkeley/Mars initiative to create more resilient cacao plants will be overseen by geneticist and CRISPR creator Jennifer Doudna.
This isn’t the first time that reports have claimed chocolate might be in danger of extinction or at severe risk of devastation. In 2014, there were numerous reports hinting that chocolate could disappear as soon as 2020, and while those claims were ultimately debunked, Spoon University wrote in 2016 that droughts around the world and fungal diseases were causing the “longest streak of chocolate deficits” in 50 years, with demand far outweighing supply, and experts predicting that the trend would likely continue in the coming years.