Most sought-after chocolate variety, Criollo, identified in DOST-PCAARRD project

Recent development in cacao varietal improvement was explored in Mindanao and its promising research results may uplift the cacao industry in the Philippines.

Several samples of cacao collected in Mindanao were identified as true Criollo, the most favored variety in the country due to its superior aroma, flavor, and taste. These varieties are usually sold at higher price than other varieties and are used in processing quality chocolate products.

True Criollo variety is found in Maragusan province of Compostela Valley; municipality of Sarangani in Davao Occidental; Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Davao; University of Southern Mindanao Agricultural Research Center (USMARC), Cotabato; and barangays Buena Vida and Garsika in Makilala, Cotabato province.

 

Researchers from the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) utilized functional genomics, a study of understanding genes and analyzing its certain functions that make it less susceptible to drought-related stress, abiotic and biotic stresses, pest and diseases, and other environmental stress.

Other than identifying true Criollo variety, researchers found that several cacao varieties in Mindanao have unique genes similar with the National Seed Industry Council’s (NSIC) recommended varieties. NSIC-recommended varieties produce high yielding cacao trees and are resistant to diseases.

This study was funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD).

Addressing the demand for cacao

Cacao or cocoa beans, popularly known as the main ingredient in making chocolates, are consistently high in demand in terms of its production. In the Philippines, approximately 7,000 metric tons of cacao was produced in 2017, which was 11.9% higher than cacao production in 2016, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Increase in demand of cacao in the country poses a challenge to the cacao production industry, thus, a need for research interventions to address the economic loss that could affect cacao growers in the country.

The project, which identified high-yielding, disease-resistant, and quality varieties of cacao, can boost cacao production in the Philippines. It can also provide ways to identify strong and robust cacao varieties in the country.

Key results of the project

The research paved way to the development of molecular markers wherein deoxyribonucleic (DNA) samples were collected from the leaf of each variety under study. Each DNA sample was compared against ten NSIC-recommended varieties and revealed that 664 markers can be used for further analysis and screening of varieties.

Furthermore, the markers were tested and verified if they belong to Criollo. The markers developed initially were effective in identifying the Criollo variety vis-à-vis non-Criollo one, thus, the methodology sought in the study can also be used to identify cacao varieties in a global scale.

Another method explored to identify true Criollo variety was the phylogenetic analysis of the markers, which revealed that six true Criollo types were discovered from the 10 sample varieties collected in Mindanao. Moreover, association mapping analysis that identifies its resistance to cacao diseases showed that some markers were resistive to L. theobromae and P. palmivora, which can be used later on in breeding of varieties.

This project, “From Functional Genomics to Functional Applications in Cacao Production and Varietal Improvement,” is one of the finalists for the upcoming National Symposium on Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (NSAARRD), research category. It is implemented by USM and UPLB.

Spearheaded by DOST-PCAARRD, NSAARRD recognizes outstanding contributions of individuals and institutions in improving the state of research and development (R&D) in the country.

DOST-PCAARRD will recognize the winners of NSAARRD through the virtual S&T Awards and Recognition on December 22, 2020. More details about the event can be found in: https://bit.ly/SnTawardsevent.