IBM Bids To Save World's Chocolate

Dennis Faas's picture

IBM's latest work, the Chocolate Genome Project, isn't a wacky codename for a new game: it's a genuine attempt to uncover the DNA of the cocoa bean.

The firm is teaming up with confectionary giant Mars and the US Department of Agriculture to track the genetic coding which makes up the bean used for chocolate production. The idea is to learn enough to isolate variants of the bean which can survive the growing problems of dry climates, fungi and insect attacks which have driven prices up by half in the past year, threatening many farmers' livelihoods. Around 6.5 million farmers depend on cocoa production for their livelihoods and these environmental problems cause around $700 million in damages each year. (Source:

The firms involved in the scheme are keeping quiet over speculation the study may lead to genetically modified chocolate products, perhaps by tweaking the genes that control flavour.

The groups involved say that the information they discover will be made available immediately rather than waiting till the project is complete. They've also promised not to patent any of the discoveries. (Source:

It should take about a year to extract the relevant genetic information, and then as much as another four years to analyse it. IBM is providing the immense computing power needed to run the project, which will involve three scientists using the Blue Gene supercomputer.

One analyst, Joe Clabby, has already accused IBM of running a publicity stunt to promote Blue Gene's processing power. But the same could be said of Clabby himself, who's well-known for getting widespread publicity with media-friendly quotes. With this latest story he's being cited in many reports as "president of Clabby Analytics" with no mention that he's the only person working at his firm.

As for this project, there's no doubt both IBM and Mars see possibly commercial benefits. But whatever the motivations, it still appears to be a potentially-productive collaboration between government, commerce, science, and technology.

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