Eighteen researchers from eleven institutions have discovered that cocoa was domesticated in Central America 3,600 years ago. A finding that has been published in Communications Biology and that opens a new front in the discussion about when and where humans began to cultivate this chocolate source. “This discovery has raised new questions to the scientific community, for example: How long did it take to obtain good cocoa? What was the domestication process like? How many plants were needed to domesticate the cocoa tree?”, explains Omar Cornejo, from Washington State University and the main author of the study.
This study has also revealed that the domestication of cocoa ended up selecting the flavor, resistance to diseases, and the stimulant theobromine. However, this led to the detriment of retaining genes that reduced crop yields.
The researchers sequenced the genome of Theobroma cacao in 2010, resulting in an archetype of the cocoa genome. Meanwhile, this research, through the sequencing of 200 plants, analyzes the variations in the genome that can reveal the evolutionary history of the plant. Among their conclusions, they point out that cocoa was domesticated in Central America, but originated in the Amazon basin, near the current border of southern Colombia and northern Ecuador, from an ancient germplasm known as Curaray.