Together with researchers at the University of the Andes, University of Miami and the USDA we have recently published an article that investigates the diversification history of Theobroma (the genus to which Theobroma cacao, the source of chocolate, belongs). We show that the genus and its relative Herrania diversified from approximately thirteen million years ago. This diversification coincided with, and may in part have been caused by, the formation of the Andes Mountains in Northwestern South America. Colombia is home to 50% of the 20 or so species in Theobroma and is thus a centre of diversity for the genus.
We also show that Theobroma cacao evolved 10 million years ago which means that we should not be surprised to see extensive genetic diversity within the species. Varieties of cacao that have different flavours or may be resistant to fungal diseases may be of benefit to a growing chocolate industry. Maintenance of this genetic diversity in its natural state, together with the animals that pollinate flowers and disperse fruits in native ecosystems, has the potential to assist with improving the quality and quantity of production that could help ensure an environmentally and economically sustainable future for the chocolate industry.
You can download a pdf of the article here.