June 27/M2 PressWIRE -- The USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), chocolate maker Mars and IBM will pool scientific resources to sequence and analyze the entire cocoa genome.

Understanding the cocoa genome may allow more efficient breeding of cocoa plants and enhance the quality of cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate.

Genome sequencing may help eliminate some of the guesswork of traditional breeding. Consequently, farmers could plant better-quality cocoa and realize healthier, stronger cocoa crops with higher yields, pest and disease resistance, and increased water and nutrient use efficiency. That is especially important in Africa, where 70% of the world's cocoa is produced.

"Sequencing the genomes of agriculture crops is a critical step if we want to better understand and improve a crop," said Judy St. John, USDA-ARS deputy administrator for Crop Production and Protection.

Cocoa has been the subject of little agricultural research compared to other major crops such as corn, wheat and rice.

While cocoa is not grown in the U.S., for every dollar of cocoa imported, between one and two dollars of domestic agricultural products are used in the manufacture of chocolate products.

The research group expects it will take about five years to complete the entire sequencing project.

From the July 7, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash