Chocolate is going extinct — Unless CRISPR can save it


Some scientists believe that chocolate could go extinct by 2050. Emerging gene-editing technology could change that.

Climate change is affecting more than just the global temperature. Changes in weather patterns and other environmental shifts are threatening some of the world’s most beloved crops — including cacao, the plant responsible for all things chocolate.

(If you didn’t know, chocolate technically comes from a plant, now you have a legitimate excuse to eat it — it’s good for you! Sort of! In moderation!)

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The majority of cocao plants grow in West Africa, where the climate has remained ideal for the crop to thrive. Rising temperatures are threatening the plants, however, making it harder for them to grow and produce the beans used to make various cocoa-based products.

The good news is, scientists — and one of the companies behind some of your favorite chocolate candy brands — don’t want chocolate to go away. They’re currently working on a solution that just might save cocao plants from disappearing forever.

This solution involves the use of CRISPR, which would effectively allow scientists to edit the DNA of cacao plants to increase their chances of survival in rising temperatures.

Researchers at the University of California have partnered with Mars (the company behind Twix, Snickers, M&Ms, and more) to make this possibility a reality.

While this method may sound like total science fiction, it’s gained a lot of attention in the past few years — and not all that attention has been good.

(Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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CRISPR refers to a specific strand of DNA, and the technology allows researchers to modify entire genomes to accomplish a variety of feats. “Gene editing,” as it’s sometimes called, could prevent the spread of a variety of deadly diseases and save certain crops (like cocao) from climate change-related extinction.

It’s controversial in one of its other possible uses: “altering” genes in order to prevent genetic defects. Think the “designer baby” debate. How ethical would it really be to change someone’s genes to create a more ideal tiny human?

However you feel about CRISPR as it relates to humans, there’s not nearly as much harm in helping plants survive the damage humans are doing to the Earth. It won’t stop climate change. But it might help more species than just plants survive it. For a while.

Scientists still have plenty of time to figure out how to genetically engineer climate change-resistant plants, but it’s probably going to take a while to figure out how to create cocao crops the heat can’t beat.

Fingers crossed climate change won’t wipe out the best “plant-based snack” known to man! In the meantime, be sure to munch on plenty of chocolate bars while you do what you can to join the fight against climate change, which is showing its global impact more than you might think.

Next. Cadbury is looking to hire a chocolate taste tester. dark

Would you be OK with scientists using this technology if it meant you didn’t have to say goodbye to your favorite sweet treats?