Boost in fight against cocoa fungal infestation

By Peter Stiff

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biology, International cocoa organisation

The discovery that two devastating fungal pathogens might be linked
could help cocoa farmers dramatically improve production.

Two of biggest threats to world cocoa supplies are witches' broom and frosty pod, both of which disturb cocoa production and also discourage many smaller farmers who grow cacao trees.

But the discovery made by molecular biologist Cathie Aime shows that the two fungi are in fact linked. As a consequence, bio control methods used to control witches' broom may also effective in treating frosty pod.

By analysing DNA Aime sequenced several genes from the two cocoa pathogens and saw that both were members of the order Agaricales. Further analysis revealed an even closer relationship between the two fungi, which are thought now to have the same ancestor.

The diseases are particular prevalent in South and Central America and there has been much research into the pathogens themselves and into solutions to the problems that they cause.

Tens of thousands of people are thought to have lost their jobs and millions affected.

Witches broom lives inside the cacao plant and disturbs growth whilst frosty pod affects the pods that contain seeds.

An International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) representative told that "The ICCO are currently involved in a project in Brazil researching fungal diseases and we hope any discovery would benefit all cocoa producers".

The ICCO expects the results of this work to be received before the end of the year.

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