See how researchers are trying to use gene technology to stop citrus greening.


Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Animal Sciences (UF/IFAS) are studying gene technology as an option to halt the destruction citrus greening has wreaked on Florida’s citrus industry. The research was presented by Bill Dawson, Eminent Scholar of Plant Pathology with UF/IFAS, at the 2017 Florida Citrus Growers’ Institute, according to a article. It’s advanced gene technology that could target the bacteria that cause citrus greening or the Asian citrus psyllids that transmit the bacteria, through the citrus tree itself. Read a summary of the research below.

Gene Technology to Stop Citrus Greening


The research uses RNAi genetics, which is “a major defense mechanism found in plants and animals,” according to the article. “RNAi is in fact a major defense mechanism against viruses, so once you understand [how it works] in plants, animals, and insects, you can learn how to change it for your own goals,” Dawson shared.

“We are using the citrus tristeza virus (CTV) to express genes in plants,” Dawson explained, using a virus-based vector. Essentially, the virus is transmitting genes to the citrus tree, but it’s not permanent. It’s the same way that Southern Gardens Citrus is putting spinach genes into citrus trees to hopefully fight citrus greening, because UF/IFAS sold the patent for the technology to the company.

The process can change the citrus tree at phloem of the trunk and veins in leaves. Researchers have shown this by inserting DNA from glowing jellyfish into citrus trees, causing those phloem tissues to glow. “We are very interested in this because the virus resides in the place [phloem] as CLas [HLB bacteria],” Dawson explained in the article. “If we can get the virus to introduce something that infers with the HLB bacterium, we might have a chance to control the disease. The remarkable thing is the virus is pretty stable. We made some trees in 2003 with the glowing phloem. Most of those trees still have the green florescent protein. Some have lost it after a period of time; but in general, the genes will keep working for several years.”

Researchers could import DNA that affects the citrus greening bacteria or the Asian citrus psyllid itself. The research is far off from finding its way into citrus groves, but it will be a powerful technology once it has been perfected.

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