A research carried out by Granja Luker —CasaLuker’s cocoa research centre— located in Palestina (Caldas), in conjunction with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Yale University, led to the discovery and analysis of 14 genomes of Colombian cocoa.
The study, the first of its kind in the world, involved extracting the DNA of 14 cocoa varieties from a sample of Fino de Aroma trees —the most sought after variety in the world produced in Colombia— and will lead to the improvement of the properties of this national product destined for the European and Asian markets. The study highlights Colombia’s scientific and academic advances by presenting the international cocoa community with a number of conclusions that will allow us to forge ahead with the development of this exotic fruit destined for the markets in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.
Up until now, only 2 types of cocoa had been sequenced, both in the US. The first is the Criollo from Belize and the other, the Matina variety from Central America. With this research undertaken in Colombia, 14 new cocoa genomes were discovered positioning Colombia in the lead of global research into cocoa genetics.
Initially, 10 million sequences were identified, of which 5.5 million were retained and filtered. This final sample was the base from which special markers were obtained that show the differences existing between the 14 genomes studied.
In the future, this study which analysed the phenotypic, genotypic and chemical properties of 14 types of cocoa, will contribute to the national economy, especially for Colombian cocoa farmers and it will boost the sale of cocoa derived products on the international scene. This will happen thanks to the greater variety of specific aroma and flavour characteristics —which depend on where the cocoa is grown— on offer for each of the markets. Currently, CasaLuker exports cocoa derived products such as chocolate couverture, dragees, origin chocolate and Fino de Aroma blends to more than 30 countries.
The Colombian agricultural sector will benefit from having the new knowledge to achieve better and more variety in terms of productivity and cocoa quality. For example, farmers will be able to plant cocoa with certain types of flavour, aroma, and colour according to the fruit’s destination. These new varieties are more resistant to disease and to the absorption of certain toxic metals. These advances will stimulate the international cocoa business given that Colombia will be able to produce cocoa with specific characteristics required by each of the markets in any part of the world.
CasaLuker’s contribution to this study was the evaluation and characterisation of the different varieties in the Granja Luker germplasm bank, its research and development team, and all the specialists and professionals that work at Granja Luker, with over 50 years of experience. CI AT, with its scientific knowledge, obtained the DNA of each variety and undertook a genome analysis of each. Yale University worked on bioinformatics and sequence analysis in order to classify each of the elements discovered in this study.
The team was made up of Joe M Tohme Scientific Director of the Agrobiodiversity Section (CIAT), Dr Gerardo Gallego Head of the Biotechnology Laboratory, Agrobiodiversity Section (CIAT), Dr Jhon Ocampo, Professor at Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Palmira, Dr Stephen De llaporta Director of the Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology Laboratory at Yale University, DR. Juan Carlos Arroyave G. Casaluker Agricultural Development Manager, Dr Alberto Agudelo Casaluker Technical Director, Dr Mauricio Salazar Casaluker Training and Research Director. With this research, CasaLuker strengthens its commitment to the cocoa sector giving way to the production of a better quality Fino de Aroma cocoa to meet the demands of markets and clients around the world. It also consolidates its commitment to the Colombian cocoa farmers who earn their living from this important crop.