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Cadmium accumulation and allocation in different cacao cultivars

Engbersen, Nadine, Gramlich, Anja, Lopez, Marlon, Schwarz, Gunnar, Hattendorf, Bodo, Gutierrez, Osman, Schulin, Rainer
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.678 pp. 660-670
European Union, Theobroma cacao, beans, cadmium, cocoa beans, cultivars, heavy metals, humans, leaves, provenance, rootstocks, scions, soil, toxicity, trees, Honduras, Latin America
Cadmium (Cd) is a biologically non-essential heavy metal that can cause toxic effects in plants, animals and humans already at low concentrations compared to other metals. After Cd concentrations in cacao beans of various provenances, particularly from Latin America, were found to exceed the new regulations enforced by the European Union in 2019, there is an urgent need to find measures to lower Cd accumulation in cacao beans to acceptable values. In this research, the long-term cacao cultivar trial CEDEC-JAS in northern Honduras was used to investigate differences between 11 cultivars in Cd uptake and translocation. Sampling of various plant parts, including rootstocks, scions, leaves and beans, from three replicate trees per cultivar and the soil around each tree was conducted at this site. Results indicate that concentrations of available soil Cd were more closely correlated with Cd concentrations of the rootstocks (R2 = 0.56), scions (R2 = 0.59) and leaves (R2 = 0.46) than with bean Cd concentrations (R2 = 0.26). In addition, Cd concentrations of rootstocks, scions and leaves showed close relationships to available soil Cd concentrations, with no significant differences between the cultivars. In contrast, bean Cd concentrations showed only weak correlations to available soil Cd and Cd concentrations in the vegetative plant parts, but significant variation among cultivars. Three cultivars, which were analysed in more detail, showed significant differences in Cd concentrations of mature beans, but not of immature beans. These results suggest that cultivar-related differences in bean Cd concentrations primarily result from differences in Cd loading during bean maturation, possibly due to cultivar-specific differences in the xylem-to-phloem transfer of Cd. The results show that selection of cultivars with low Cd transfer from vegetative parts into the beans has high potential to keep Cd accumulation in cacao beans at levels that are safe for consumption.