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4-Patents: Public-private partnership gives Mars patent rights over GE cocoa



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TITLE:  Resistance genes key to protecting chocolate supply
SOURCE: Agricultural Research Service - US Department of Agriculture
        by Don Comis, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/thelatest.htm
DATE:   October 15, 2001

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Resistance genes key to protecting chocolate supply

Anyone who needs a chocolate fix would do well to fear witches’ broom, 
frosty pod rot and black pod.

A major supplier of chocolate lovers, Mars, Inc., wants to protect the 
world’s cocoa beans from these and other fungal diseases. Agricultural 
Research Service scientists, led by plant geneticist Raymond J. Schnell at 
the ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami, Fla., have 
signed a research agreement with Mars to develop more resistant cacao trees 
as quickly as possible.

Large pods holding 20 to 60 cocoa beans rich with chocolate butter sprout 
from cacao trees. The diseases rot mature pods. Witches’ broom gets its 
name from the white, broomlike fungal structures that form on leaves, pods 
and stems. It also inhibits new pod formation.

Witches’ broom has reduced Brazil from a net exporter to an importer of 
cocoa beans. Frosty pod rot has closed farms in Ecuador, Colombia and Costa 
Rica. Now, black pod rot threatens the West African plantations that supply 
more than half of the world’s cacao. If the other two diseases were to 
reach West Africa and join forces with black pod, the world could all but 
kiss chocolate goodbye.

ARS scientists have found 75 cacao genes similar to resistance genes in 
other plant species. These may help scientists breed more resistant 
varieties. If the resistance genes are clustered together, the known genes 
could lead to discovery of their neighbors.

The United States is working with Brazil, Costa Rica, Trinidad, Ecuador and 
the United Kingdom. These countries have long-standing cacao breeding 
programs and have supplied the range of plants needed to map the cacao 
genome’s 10 chromosomes.

Mars, Inc., has waived its patent rights to any new varieties that might 
result from this research.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research 
agency.



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