Early detection of citrus greening, also known as HLB, is part of any program aimed at keeping the citrus tree as productive as possible for as long as possible. Thanks to Professor Cristina Davis, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering with the University of California, Davis, a citrus grower’s ability to detect citrus greening has gotten that much easier.

Professor Davis devised an early detection and screening process using volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to detect citrus greening, according to a CitrusIndustry.com article. The VOCs act as indicators of citrus greening in the trees themselves.

VOCs Explained

VOCS are odors made of different chemicals that are given off by all living organisms. In citrus trees, the VOCs given off by healthy trees are very different from the odors given off by trees infected with citrus greening.

VOCs are given off for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is for plants to communicate with each other and with animals. For example, the odor of fresh cut grass that most people enjoy is actually a VOC the grass is emitting to warn surrounding grasses and plants that it’s under attack (from a lawn mower).

Using VOCs to Detect Citrus Greening

Professor Davis’s method for detecting citrus greening includes the use of special instruments called twisters; according to the CitrusIndustry.com article, these instruments are “the size of a Tic Tac.”

The twisters are hung in a tree for a couple of hours, and then they are analyzed at a lab. Mass spectrometry analysis is utilized to create a chemical profile that can be used to diagnose citrus greening. Those twisters near HLB-infected trees will detect the VOCs given off by the infected trees, and the mass spectrometry analysis will reveal the VOC chemicals associated with HLB infection. In this way, the twisters will detect citrus greening.

The twisters themselves are reusable, making it a cost-effective option for citrus growers. Companies are in the works to bring the HLB-detecting devices to growers.

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