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How science could make your treats even tastier

Super fruits: Researchers cracked the complete genetic make up of the wild strawberry 
Is you're still feeling full after an overindulgent Christmas, here’s something that might bring your appetite back.

Scientists have unlocked the genetic code to some of our favourite treats in a breakthrough that could result in even tastier versions.

It brings them a step closer to creating a new generation of delicious ‘super strawberries’ and creamy, rich chocolate after working out the chemicals responsible for their flavour, aroma and nutritional value.

In one study, researchers decoded the complete genetic make-up of the wild strawberry in an effort to create more flavoursome fruit that is better equipped to withstand disease and the UK’s soggy summers. In a second, they unravelled the DNA code of the cacao tree responsible for producing the world’s best quality chocolate.

But while the findings could lead to tastier treats, they will disturb food traditionalists by paving the way for an increased number of genetically modified fruits and snacks.

The scientists found that the wild strawberry has 35,000 genes, one and half times the number found in humans.

A team from 38 organisations across ten countries sequenced the full genome of the fruit and identified genes that might be responsible for flavour, aroma, nutritional value and response to disease.

The wild strawberry is closely related to apples, peaches, pears, raspberries and roses – a group called the rosaceae family.

Tasty treats: Scientists worked out the DNA code of the cacao tree responsible for the best chocolate in the world

Dr Dan Sargent, from East Malling Research, in Kent, said: ‘The wild strawberry is an important genome to sequence because it is closely related to a number of important things that we eat.

‘Because farmers have been cross-breeding and hybridising food crops for centuries to improve traits like taste and nutritional value they tend to have large complicated genomes, but the wild strawberry’s is relatively small so we can get access to all of these useful genes comparatively easily.’ The second study found that the Criollo tree, which produces the world’s finest chocolate, has around 29,000 genes.

A team from 18 institutions identified those that influence the production of antioxidants, pigments, aromas and flavours, as well as hundreds thought to be involved in disease resistance.

Many growers prefer to keep hybrid cacao trees that are tougher but produce lower-quality chocolate than the Criollo tree, which was domesticated 3,000 years ago. But altering the genes could produce robust, high-quality genetically modified chocolate that tastes better and may even be healthier.

Hidden in the genome, the team also found the genes involved in the production of cocoa butter – a substance highly valued in making chocolate, confectionery, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. 

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