A Sweet Sequence: The Cacao Genome *

Areas of Science Genetics & Genomics
Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites A high school level introductory biology course is a prerequisite for this science project.
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


Can you imagine Valentine's Day or Halloween without chocolate? Well, if you're a chocolate lover brace yourself for the bad news. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), "Worldwide demand for cacao now exceeds production." If there isn't enough cacao, the major raw ingredient for chocolate, then the chocolate supply will dwindle. Hang on! Before you start rushing to the store to buy all the chocolate you can get your hands on, a solution is already in the works. In 2008, IBM, Mars Inc., and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, and several other academic partners, joined together to sequence the cacao genome. As articulated in the video below, the goal of the project is to find out which genes need to be altered, through genetic engineering or selective breeding, to create more drought- and pest-resistant Theobroma cacao trees that produce larger quantities of cacao pods.

Watch this video on studying the cocoa genome.

In September 2010, the collaboration finished sequencing 92 percent of the genome. The sequence data was made available to the public through the Cacao Genome Database. Now, scientists throughout the world, including you, can start figuring out how to make healthier, more robust and prolific cacao trees to protect the world's chocolate supply. Researchers will be asking many different types of questions, like which genes control drought tolerance, temperature tolerance, yield, and pathogen resistance. You can ask those same questions! For example, you can evaluate what pathogens might be able to successfully attack the sequenced strain of cacao, Matina 1–6, and which pathogens this cacao plant is immune to. First, you'll need to do some background reading to learn what types of pathogens (fungi, bacteria, and/or viruses) commonly attack cacao.

The Science Buddies guide to Resources for Finding and Accessing Scientific Papers can help you get your literature search started. Once you've focused in on a few key pathogens, comb the literature for known genes in other plants that confer sensitivity or resistance to these pathogens. Using BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool, which you can read more about in the Bibligoraphy), or other DNA comparison tools, look for homologous genes in the cacao genome. Based on your homolog search, you'll be able to make predictions about whether or not Matina 1–6 is immune to that particular pathogen. You might even be able to confirm your findings using phenotypic data published about Matina 1–6. With some genetic interference and a little bit of luck, you might never need to face a chocolateless holiday!

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project Yes, I Did This Project! Please log in (or create a free account) to let us know how things went.


Sandra Slutz, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "A Sweet Sequence: The Cacao Genome." Science Buddies, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Genom_p021/genetics-genomics/cacao-genome. Accessed 15 Oct. 2019.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2017, November 6). A Sweet Sequence: The Cacao Genome. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Genom_p021/genetics-genomics/cacao-genome

Last edit date: 2017-11-06


Here are a few websites that will help you with this project:

News Feed on This Topic

, ,
Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project Yes, I Did This Project! Please log in (or create a free account) to let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

plant scientist polleniating tree

Plant Scientist

With a growing world population, making sure that there is enough food for everyone is critical. Plant scientists work to ensure that agricultural practices result in an abundance of nutritious food in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Read more
bioinformatics scientist evaluating microarray data

Bioinformatics Scientist

The human body can be viewed as a machine made up of complex processes. Scientists are working on figuring out how these processes work and on sequencing and correlating the sections of the genome that correspond to the individual processes. (The genome is an organism's complete set of genetic material.) In the course of doing so, they generate large amounts of data. So large, in fact, that to make sense of it, the data must be organized into databases and labeled. This is where bioinformatics scientists step in. They design databases and develop algorithms for processing and analyzing genomic and other biological information. These scientists work at the crossroads of biology and computer science. Read more
Agricultural technician evaluating a plant

Agricultural Technician

As the world's population grows larger, it is important to improve the quality and yield of food crops and animal food sources. Agricultural technicians work in the forefront of this very important research area by helping scientists conduct novel experiments. If you would like to combine technology with the desire to see things grow, then read further to learn more about this exciting career. Read more
female biologist plotting animal range data on computer


Life is all around you in beauty, abundance, and complexity. Biologists are the scientists who study life in all its forms and try to understand fundamental life processes, and how life relates to its environment. They answer basic questions, like how do fireflies create light? Why do grunion fish lay their eggs based on the moon and tides? What genes control deafness? Why don't cancer cells die? How do plants respond to ultraviolet light? Beyond basic research, biologists might also apply their research and create new biotechnology. There are endless discoveries waiting to be found in the field of biology! Read more

News Feed on This Topic

, ,
Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity