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Chocolate DNA decoded

world Updated: Dec 28, 2010 00:33 IST

The chocolate tree and woodland strawberry have become the latest life forms to have their genetic make-up decoded by scientists.

The work gives researchers an unprecedented view of the biological parts inside each crop and is expected to help produce hardier and more disease-resistant plants and lead to tastier treats.

An international team of scientists led by the French organisation CIRAD selected a variety of the Theobroma cacao chocolate tree called Criollo, which was first domesticated by the Maya around 3,000 years ago.

Many cacao farmers grow trees that produce lower quality chocolate because they are more resilient to disease and so more likely to guarantee a good harvest. The researchers identified 28,798 genes in the chocolate tree, including two kinds that help defend against disease and a group of genes the plant uses to make cocoa butter, a prized substance in making chocolate, drugs and cosmetics.

Other genes gave the chocolate aroma, flavour and colour, while some influence levels of natural antioxidants, hormones and organic chemicals called terpenoids.