FCIA Fine Chocolate Glossary

Cocoa, GMO

GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organism, currently referred to by the USDA as BE or Bioengineered. These designations refer to organisms that have genetic changes created by humans using methods including recombinant DNA technology.

A GMO is created by transferring recombinant DNA into a cell, then regenerating and entire plant from that cell. The DNA may have originated form cacao, or any other organism, and can even be designed and synthesized in a lab.

The genes that are transferred using this process encode a protein that confers a desired trait on the organism such as disease or drought resistance, enhanced quality traits etc. GMOs are also used to study the structure and function of genes (functional genomics) and are a tool for molecular biology research.

The first GMO cacao plants were developed in the Cacao Molecular Biology lab at Penn State (Maximova et al. 2003; Antunez de Mayolo et al. 2003; Maximova et al. 2006).

No GMO cacao plants have been moved from the PSU greenhouses where they are kept under tight USDA bio-safety protocols, and to our knowledge no other labs have released GMO cacao plants although at lest one other lab has recently produced GMO cacao plants (Jones et al. 2022).

Próximamente versión en español

Learn more from “GMO cocoa” author Mark Guiltinan and other experts in this FCIA webinar

Entry added: June 28, 2022
Verified on: September 14, 2023

Authored by

Mark Guiltinan, Professor of Plant Molecular Biology, J. Franklin Styer Professor of Horticultural Botany, Director, The Penn State Program in the Molecular Biology of Cacao


Stable transformation of Theobroma cacao L. and influence of matrix attachment regions on GFP expression,” Maximova, Siela N., Carter Millar, Gabriela Antúnez de Mayalo, Sharon Pishak, Ann Young and Mark J. Guiltinan, Plant Cell Reports 21: 872-883, April 3, 2003.

Moxalactam as a counter-selection antibiotic for Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and its positive effects on Theobroma cacao somatic embryogenesis,” Antúnez de Mayalo, Gabriela, Siela N. Maximova, Sharon Pishak and Mark J. Guiltinan, Plant Science 164: 607-615, January 29, 2003.

Over-expression of a cacao class I chitinase gene in Theobroma cacao L. enhances resistance against the pathogen, Colletotrichum gloeosporioides,” Maximova, Siela N., Jean-Philippe Marelli, Ann Young, Sharon Pishak, Joseph A. Verica and Mark J. Guiltinan, Planta 224: 740-749, December 16, 2005.

Screening of cultivars for tissue culture response and establishment of genetic transformation in a high-yielding and disease-resistant cultivar of Theobroma cacao,” Jones, Jesse, Elaine Zhang, Dominick Tucker, Daniel Rietz, Douglas Dahlbeck, Michael Gomez, Claudia Garcia, Jean-Philippe Marelli, Donald Livingstone III, Ray Schnell, Brian Staskawicz and Myeong-Je Cho, In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology – Plant 58: 133-145, July 15, 2021.

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