Rival Candy Projects Both Parse Cocoa's DNA
By ANDREW POLLACK
New York Times
September 15, 2010
The candy maker Mars is expected to announce on
Wednesday that a project it financed has essentially
completed the raw sequence of the genome of the cacao
tree, and that it would make the data freely available
The announcement upstages a consortium involving French
government laboratories and Pennsylvania State
University that is backed in part by a competitor of
Mars, Hershey. This group says it has also completed the
sequence, but cannot discuss it until its paper
analyzing the genome is published in a scientific
The rivalry between the two big chocolate companies'
projects in some ways mirrors what occurred in the race
to sequence the human genome, between Celera Genomics
and the publicly financed Human Genome Project. That
battle was officially declared a tie.
Still, scientists in both groups say that cocoa farmers,
candy companies and chocolate lovers will benefit from
having two sequences, of different varieties of cacao,
that can be compared.
"This will help guarantee a sustainable future for cocoa
for the farmers, the consumers and Mars Inc.," Howard-
Yana Shapiro, the head of plant research at Mars, said
in an interview.
Having the DNA information, he said, could help in
breeding trees that have higher yields and are more
resistant to diseases. The cocoa crop in Brazil, for
instance, was decimated some years ago by a fungal
disease called witches' broom.
Today, about 70 percent of the world crop is grown in
West Africa, and several million small farmers depend on
it for their livelihoods. Scientists say it might be
possible to as much as quintuple the output of beans per
acre in Africa through breeding that relies on genetic
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With DNA of chocolate nearly decoded by scientists, could
sweeter treats await?
By Jia Lynn Yang
September 15, 2010
A group of researchers led by McLean candy company Mars
is nearly done sequencing the genome of the cacao tree,
which produces the seeds used to make cocoa. The
information will speed up the process for creating a
stronger tree that is more resistant to disease and
easier to grow for millions of farmers.
And a better tree, they hope, means more chocolate for
everyone for years to come.
Rather than keep the delicious secrets to itself, the
company behind M&M's and Snickers has decided to share
the information with the world.
"The information is so rich and so accurate we felt
there was no reason to hold back," said Howard-Yana
Shapiro, a Santa-bearded chocolate scientist whose
technical title is global staff officer of plant science
and research at Mars.
The goal of the genome project is not to genetically
engineer chocolate. Rather it's to improve the
traditional method of breeding trees, a laborious,
trial-and-error process in which researchers try to
isolate the sweetest traits and replicate them. That can
take as long as 15 years to complete.
With a map of the cacao tree's genetic makeup,
scientists could cut that process down to two or three
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The Sweet Truth About Chocolate and Your Heart
Have you had your flavonoids today?
The Cleveland Clinic
While not a question normally asked at a social
gathering, flavonoids have become quite a hot topic in
the media and in scientific journals.
Flavonoids help protect plants by shielding them from
environmental toxins and helping repair damage. When we
consume plant-based foods rich in flavonoids, it appears
that we also benefit from this "antioxidant" power.
Antioxidants are believed to help the body's cells
resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by
normal bodily processes such as breathing and from
environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke. When
the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, damage
from free radicals occurs and leads to increases in LDL
("bad)-cholesterol oxidation (oxidized LDL-cholesterol
hurts the arteries) and plaque formation on the walls of
Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa
and chocolate. In addition to having antioxidant
qualities, research indicates that flavanols have other
positive influences on vascular health, such as lowering
blood pressure and improving blood flow to the brain and
heart, making blood platelets less sticky and able to
clot, and lowering cholesterol. What are flavonoids?
Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in
plant-based foods that offer certain health benefits.
They are part of the polyphenol group (chemicals found
in plants). There are more than 4,000 flavonoid
compounds, which are found in a wide variety of foods
and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts,
chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. Flavanols are a
type of flavonoid specifically found in cocoa and
Flavanols, which give cocoa a pungent taste, "may be
lost during cocoa processing". Some chocolate
manufacturers are studying ways to keep high levels of
flavanols in their products while still producing good-
tasting chocolate. Are all types of chocolate healthy?
Before you grab a chocolate candy bar or slice of
chocolate cake, it's important to understand that not
all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols.
Cocoa naturally has a very strong, pungent taste, which
comes from the flavanols. When cocoa is processed into
your favorite chocolate products, it goes through
several steps to reduce this taste. The more chocolate
is processed (through things like fermentation,
alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are
lost. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed.
Although it was once believed that dark chocolate
contained the highest levels flavanols, recent research
indicates that, depending on how the dark chocolate was
processed, this may not be true. The good news is that
most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways
to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates. But
for now, your best choices are likely dark chocolate
over milk chocolate (especially milk chocolate that is
loaded with other fats and sugars), and cocoa powder
that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is
treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural
acidity). What about all of the fat in chocolate?
You may be surprised to learn that chocolate isn't as
bad for you as we once thought.
The fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter and is made
up of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy
monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic
and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms
of saturated fat. You may know that saturated fats are
linked to increases in LDL-cholesterol and the risk for
But, research shows that stearic acid appears to have a
neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor
lowering it. Although palmitic acid does affect
cholesterol levels, it only makes up one-third of the
fat calories in chocolate. Still, this great news does
not mean you can eat all the dark chocolate you'd like.
First, be careful about the type of dark chocolate you
choose: chewy caramel-marshmallow-nut-covered dark
chocolate is by no means a heart-healthy food option.
Watch out for those extra ingredients that can add lots
of extra fat and calories! Second, there is currently no
established serving size of chocolate to help you reap
the cardiovascular benefits it offers, and more research
is needed in this area. However, we do know that you no
longer need to feel guilty if you enjoy a small piece of
dark chocolate once in a while. So, for now, enjoy
moderate portions of chocolate (e.g., one ounce) a few
times per week, and don't forget to eat other flavonoid-
rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions and
This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is
not intended to replace the medical advice of your
doctor or health care provider. Please consult your
health care provider for advice about a specific medical
Chocolate, the Exhibition
[moderator: To visit this website about chocolate
From rainforest treasure to luscious treat-immerse
yourself in the story of chocolate.
A gift for the gods. A symbol of wealth and luxury. An
economic livelihood. Bonbons. Hot fudge. Candy bars. For
thousands of years humans have been fascinated with the
delicious phenomenon that we call "chocolate."
Journey through history to get the complete story behind
the tasty treat that we crave in Chocolate, an exciting
new exhibition developed by The Field Museum.
You'll begin in the rainforest with the unique cacao
tree whose seeds started it all. Visit the ancient Maya
civilization of Central America and discover what
chocolate meant nearly 1,500 years ago. Then travel
forward in time and northward to the Aztec civilization
of 16th-century Mexico, where cacao seeds were so
valuable they were used as money. Discover chocolate's
introduction into the upper classes of European society
and its transformation into a mass-produced world
Chocolate will engage your senses and reveal facets of
this sumptuous sweet that you've never thought about
before. You'll explore the plant, the products, and the
culture of chocolate through the lenses of science,
history, and popular culture.
Chocolate is a sweet experience for all ages! Don't miss
its world premiere at The Field Museum.
Chocolate and its national tour were developed by The
Field Museum, Chicago.
This project was supported, in part, by the National
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