Imagine walking into a candy store or an ice cream shop to buy your favourite chocolate snack or your go-to flavour of fudge only to discover that there wasn’t any chocolate at all. Not in the store. Not in the city. Not on the planet. It practically sounds like the plot to a horror movie, but this could be real life, folks. The chocolate supply is melting away, and only science can save us.
Thanks to rising temperatures around the globe, the soil used to grow cocoa bean crops is drying out. The warmer climates are slated to take a serious toll on one of mankind’s most lovable treats, and it’s going to happen in the next 35 years.
To avoid the inevitable shortage, scientists are working with the Mars candy company to edit the genetic code of cocoa bean crops to help them survive harsher climates.
“We’re trying to go all in here,” Barry Parkin, the chief sustainability officer at Mars, told Business Insider. “There are obviously commitments the world is leaning into but, frankly, we don’t think we’re getting there fast enough collectively.”
The plant that chocolate’s made from only grows in hot, humid environments like the rainforests in Ecuador and West Africa. But with climate change experts predicting long periods of drought in these areas over the next few decades, these chocolate-growing hot spots could cool down — or more accurately, overheat — leaving the chocolate-craving masses without their sugar fix. Not good.
In fact, Mars committed $1 billion towards finding a solution back in September. And the future of chocolate now lies in the relatively new genetic-editing tool known as CRISPR, which allows scientists to change qualities at the most basic biological level. At the University of California, Lead Bioscience Researcher Myeong-Je Cho has already sprouted cacao seedlings that may stand a better chance in the changing environment.
And with 30 years left on the clock before the shortage begins, there’s reason to be optimistic. Because as badly as chocolate-loving people might fear a shortage, the company that makes Mars bars, M&Ms and Snickers has way more to lose. So if there’s a way to keep our snack drawers full of chocolate, they’ll find it.