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MARS Inc and scientists at the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) are working to engineer cocoa trees that will be resistant to disease.

The Innovative Genomics Institute is an academic research partnership between UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco that aims to develop and deploy DNA engineering technology to solve real-world problems.

Using the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system co-developed by executive director Jennifer Doudna, the IGI’s scientists hope to combat human and plant diseases.

Brian Staskawicz, Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, is the scientific director of the IGI’s agricultural genomics programme.

Along with Myeong-Je Cho, PI of the IGI’s growing Plant Genomics and Transformation Facility, Staskawicz leads a team working to generate sustainable crops that will support a growing global population and withstand threats ranging from climate change to plant pathogens.

“Cocoa can be afflicted by several devastating conditions,” said Professor Staskawicz. “We’re developing CRISPR editing technologies to alter the DNA in cacao plants to become more resistant to both viral and fungal diseases.”

Professor Staskawicz hopes that the lessons learned from the cacao project can be extended to other crop species as well. “Similar strategies should be useful for protecting a variety of plants from infection, including important crops like cassava, rice, and wheat.”

(photo: Neil Palmer, CIAT)

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