Researchers work to save the fate of chocolate

Chocolate may not technically be considered a natural resource, but for millions of people it is a treasure and one that is to be protected at all costs. Whether it's for dessert or a snack, a research center in London may be responsible for ensuring the world's chocolate fix, CBS News' Charlie D'Agata reports from London.

It's not going too far to say the fate of chocolate the world over rests in the hands of Heather Lake and her team. She saves the world's chocolate from drought, pests and diseases.

Lake is the chief technician at the International Cocoa Quarantine Center, a cluster of steamy greenhouses west of London.

Every chunk of chocolate, cup of hot cocoa or decadent fudge brownie starts with the cocoa tree, the theobroma cacoa.

Though they are native to the tropical regions of Central and South America, the lion's share of the world's cocoa comes from West Africa.

The international drive for creating healthier, high-yielding cocoa trees means plants in transit have to stop at the quarantine center first to make sure they don't pass on any devastating diseases.

Each year, a third of the global cocoa crop is wiped out to pests and diseases with nasty names like "frosty pod rod," "swollen-shoot virus" and "vascular streak dieback."

Researcher Ekemini Obok dedicates most of his waking hours to fighting cocoa's deadliest virus.

"If you really want to continue enjoying chocolate and the chocolate products and produce, you should care about what I'm doing, else at some point you are going to run out of your chocolate," Obok said with a laugh.

He was laughing. But he's not joking.

"Depending on the strain of the virus, you could have a total crop loss ranging from 50 to 100 percent," Obok said.

That means if something went badly wrong, the entire cocoa industry could be leveled at a time when demand is surging from developing countries like India and China.

Commodities trader Nitesh Shah said the raw material is worth a fortune.

"With a current trading price at $3,000 a ton, that leaves the market worth around $12.6 billion," Shah said.

That's why it's critical to weed out infected plants that may come in from the field, called the mother plants.

"If we do find a plant with a virus, we have to destroy the mother plant, so it'll normally get incinerated," Lake said.

But the healthy survivors are then distributed to farms where breeding will take place to ensure the survival of the crop.

Super plants each have their own strength like fighting off disease or producing lots of cocoa beans, and once they get a clean bill of health they go forth and multiply.

And although the project is based in England, U.S. taxpayers are picking up a big chunk of the tab, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As for safeguarding chocolate around the globe, Lake said she's just doing her job.

"We're just supplying a wide variety of clean cocoa material for cocoa breeders around the world, and then they breed it for various reasons," Lake said.

Helping to ensure nothing spoils that treat chocolate lovers reach for when they want to spoil themselves.