There are many different avenues of attack that are being researched to fight citrus greening, also known as HLB, in Florida. A CitrusIndustry.com article recently discussed the latest developments in one such program, the NuPsyllid program. It’s a program aimed at Asian citrus psyllid eradication, the insect responsible for the transmission of the bacteria behind citrus greening. Chief Operations Officer with the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), Harold Browning, discussed the status of the NuPsyllid program. Read a summary below.
Background of NuPsyllid Eradication Efforts
Citrus greening was detected in South Florida in 2005, and the disease began taking its terrible toll on Florida’s citrus industry thereafter. In 2012, the CRDF began the NuPsyllid program as part of psyllid eradication efforts. The project was formed by eight teams and about 40 scientists from around the country, according to the article. Rather than looking to kill the miniscule insects with sprays or disable them with traps, the NuPsyllid program aimed to change psyllids.
“The goal is to build and release into the field the psyllid that has less capacity to acquire and transmit the Liberibacter pathogen that causes HLB,” Browning shared in the article. “The premise is that if we can disable the psyllid and then rear it and release it much in the way you would a biological control agent, then you could over time reduce the overall wild population – dilute it out – and its ability to move the bacterium … This might be a real useful tool to complement what we’re doing with other psyllid management,” he explained.
Much like sterile male screwworm flies were released to eradicate the pest in Florida in the 1950s, the NuPsyllid would mate with wild Asian citrus psyllids and subsequent generations would not be as adept at spreading the Liberibacter bacteria that causes citrus greening.
Update on NuPsyllid Eradication Efforts
The initial program was to run for five years to a tune of $9 million. However, 2017 likely won’t see the program’s completion. ““We were hopeful that by the end of the fifth year, we’d have a psyllid that was in the greenhouse, on plants, ready to scale up and put in the field. But we’re not quite there yet,” Browning shared.
The program continues, and hopefully it can reach its goals with the help of additional funding. “The work goes on. There’s additional funding that will be available after year five, and we’re optimistic that it’s going to get where it needs to go,” Browning said. “We put a very ambitious program together,” he added. “I don’t think the team is disappointed because there’s been a lot of really good progress coming out of this.”
The research stemming from the NuPsyllid program could even turn in a new direction, according to the article. It would be one that results in true psyllid eradication: a dead psyllid over one that’s biologically inferior to its wild relatives. In simple terms, the biological changes result in the death of the psyllid, an outcome we can all get behind.
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