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Genetics: Cocoa has been popular for 5,000 years

Genetics: Cocoa has been popular for 5,000 years


A research team found ancient DNA from cocoa in ceramic vessels. This made it possible to trace how the cacao tree spread from the Amazon across South and Central America. It turns out that 5,000 years ago, cocoa was more popular than previously known.

Cradle of the cocoa tree (Theobroma, cocoa) It is located in the Amazon Basin. From there, people brought the plant to other regions in South and Central America, such as South America In the journal “Scientific Reports” The published study explains.

A team searched around Claire Lanaud from the University of Montpellier in France examined the remains of 352 ceramic vessels from 19 pre-Columbian cultures. The ships were built in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Belize and Panama, and the oldest ones were about 6,000 years old.

Isolation of the ancient cocoa genome

Researchers also found traces of ancient DNA DNA – On ships. They were also able to isolate DNA from three substances that stimulate the nervous system and are found in cocoa: theobromine, theophylline, and caffeine. In addition to ancient DNA traces, the team also used genetic material from 76 modern samples for the study Theobroma, cocoa. The comparison made it possible to trace how ancient tribes spread and changed.

Claire Lanaud

Ancient ceramic vessels containing cocoa genetic material

The results show that the cocoa tree was domesticated in the Amazon region at least 5,000 years ago, and it was previously assumed that this was 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The team was also able to prove that the plant will soon be grown on the Pacific coast.


Ancient DNA – technically aDNA – is DNA that is at least 100 years old, such as the remains of genetic molecules from dead organisms. DNA contains, among other things, information about the evolution of man and the animal and plant world in prehistoric times.

Many intersections

Different cultures have long been in contact with each other through cultural exchange and trade routes: for example, cacao strains from Peru have been discovered in ceramic vessels from the Colombian Caribbean coast and the Ecuadorian Pacific coast.

The study indicates that the great diversity of ancient strains discovered indicates that genetically different strains were interbred when different cultures began using cocoa. According to the study's authors, broader knowledge of the history of the cocoa tree's domestication could help better deal with the threats modern cocoa varieties face, from diseases to global warming.

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