Research into Diseases that Threaten Chocolate

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Dr. Puig
Pathogen virulence was determined by infecting Theobroma cacao seedlings in USDA-ARS lab.

As the saying goes, not all heroes wear capes. Meet the researcher protecting the world’s chocolate supply.

Chocolate is made from cacao beans, and research shows that up to 40 percent of the world’s cacao beans are lost to cacao plant diseases. Researcher Doctor Alina Puig says black pod rot causes the most losses in cacao, primarily because it’s found in every region where cacao is commercially grown.

“Growing regions tend to be strictly tropical if it’s going to be grown outside, and the commercial places tend to be outside,” Puig said. “It’s within ten degrees north and south of the equator. So, within the United States, the only state that has commercial production would be Hawaii. It doesn’t tolerate colder conditions, so it tends to be strictly tropical places. There is also produced in Puerto Rico.”

She said outside of the U.S. states and territories, cacao is grown in parts of Africa, which is the top producing area, as well as Central, and South America, and other areas.

She and other researchers in Florida, Hawaii, and Maryland are helping to minimize the impact of black pod rot and plant viruses by learning more about the organisms and developing tests to detect them.

We’ll learn about cacao plant viruses in tomorrow’s This Land of Ours.

Research into Diseases that Threaten Chocolate