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Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 15:48 UK
Reading Uni works to save endangered cocoa plants
Professor with cocoa bean
Professor Paul Hadley works at the cocoa plantation in Shinfield.

Reading University has attracted new funding to carry out research into diseases which affect cocoa plants, a key ingredient in chocolate.

The University of Reading took over responsibility for cocoa quarantine from Kew Gardens in 1985.

Now the university will research the effects of climate change, disease and pests to cocoa crops.

The project will use greenhouses that simulate current and predicted climate conditions in cocoa growing regions.

International centre

The university is hoping to help develop new varieties of cocoa which will be able to survive changes in climate.

Scientists fear that climate change could lead to increased incidences of pests and diseases and lower cocoa yields worldwide.

BBC Radio Berkshire's Maggie Philbin paid a trip to the cocoa plantation, and visited a new greenhouse in Shinfield, where scientists can simulate six different tropical environments.

Professor Paul Hadley told Maggie: "We can control the climate that we grow the cocoa in, that's very important. If we're looking at climate change we can separate effects like rainfall, temperature, light, which would be impossible to do in a cocoa growing country."

The plants are housed in polytunnels, where scientists try grafting techniques in order to ensure they have protection against viruses which commonly affect cocoa plants.

A quarantine centre for cocoa plants
Cocoa plants can be quarantined for up to two years

Once plants are 'immunised' against viruses and disease they can be shipped all over the world to help cocoa farmers.

"Cocoa is one of the most important sources of income for many countries, and in Ghana it's responsible for 40 per cent of foreign exchange earnings," said BBC Radio Berkshire's Maggie Philbin.

The university also houses a purpose-built centre in Shinfield, where plants go into 'quarantine' for up to two years to check they do not carry diseases.

Cocoa plants are from as far afield as South America and Trinidad are checked for diseases.

Dr Andy Wetten, who works in the quarantine area for the cocoa plants said: "This is the principle international centre for quarantine work with the cocoa plant."

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