Chocolate genome sequenced - verrrry slowly

I read in the Washington Post yesterday - on the front page, no less - that the chocolate genome (the genome of the cacao plant) was going to be sequenced, with most of the funding coming from the Mars chocolate company. But then I saw on CNN the headline "Scientists analyze chocolate genome." Huh? So it's already done? Well, no - this is science by press release (as opposed to real science). No one sequenced the chocolate genome - not even a small part of it. All the news stories are based on press releases from Mars and IBM (which is collaborating with Mars on the project). The NY Times reported it with the headline, "A Genetic Quest for Better Chocolate."

Well, okay, I suppose it's interesting cocktail-party talk that someone is working on the chocolate genome. But all these dramatic news stories don't amount to much news at all, at least not on the scientific front, since nothing has been done yet. I guess the science reporters were too busy to find some real science to report on, and it's so easy to take this press release from Mars, Inc. and turn it into a story. Good job, people!

One strange element is this: "The group anticipates that it will take approximately five years to complete the entire sequencing, assembly, annotation and study of the cocoa genome." What? The genome is only 500 million bases (DNA letters). These days, a genome of that size can easily be sequenced in one year; in fact, I'm working on two species, each twice as large, that we're planning to sequence in less than a year each. This raises suspicions that they will be doing something else with the data during all that time - though they claim they will make the intellectual property freely available through PIPRA, the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture.

We should keep an eye on this and see if they really deliver. But five years? That is way too long.

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