UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the first time, Penn State researchers have identified a gene that controls flowering in cacao, a discovery that may help accelerate breeding efforts aimed at improving the disease-ridden plant, they suggested.
Characterizing the Flowering Locus T gene in cacao, responsible for the production of florigen — a protein that triggers flowering in most plants — is important, according to study co-author Mark Guiltinan, J. Franklin Styer Professor of Horticultural Botany and professor of plant molecular biology. He expects this advancement to enable scientists to develop disease-resistant trees faster, which is critical because 20% to 30% of the world’s cacao crop is lost to disease annually.
“Breeding tree crops like cacao is very slow and can take 20 or more years to release a new variety,” he said. “Knowledge of the mechanisms of flowering may lead to methods to accelerate cacao breeding and to develop trees that produce fruit sooner than conventional varieties, which takes two to four years. Each year we move closer to these goals as we continue to explore the molecular biology of the cacao tree.”