Citrus Greening Disease
Citrus Greening Disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), is a life threatening plant disease that has already destroyed many of Florida’s crops and is on its way to ruining California’s also. Asain citrus psyllids are the tiny culprits causing the disease by transmitting deadly bacteria amongst the plants. The fruits yielded after infection are bitter and worthless, causing farmers to lose out on income from these plants.
California grows around 80 percent of America’s fresh citrus, using an estimated 267,000 acres of lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and mandarins. For this reason, scientists at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have invented a way to fight against the deadly infection.
Finding inspiration from nature
“If you find a disease affecting your crops, a good first step is to look for plants that are able to grow and produce despite infection. Then you can start to identify the genetic basis of the disease tolerance and make sure the next generation of plants includes these genes,” stated geneticist Danelle Seymour, lead author on the paper.
From crossbreeding with plants containing natural resistance, the team created 300 different citrus hybrids which were then infected with HLB. These crops showed increased survival and higher fruit yield compared to their non-hybrid counterparts, scientists just have to choose the most suitable and durable of the bunch.
What is next for these hybrids?
The team is confident their findings are readily applicable to use in an industry setting. “The environment in which these plants were grown means we can be confident that these rootstocks will enhance tree health and yield in HLB-affected areas,” Seymour said. “Also, because our data set is so large, we’ve got the opportunity to identify plants with levels of tolerance that exceed current commercial varieties.”
The team is also ensuring their citrus plants have resistance to other pathogens native to California, so they can be successfully used country wide. Hopefully from this research, costs for both local growers and consumers can be reduced.