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Mar 23, 2010

Bacteria Resistant GM Citrus Trees Proposed to Fight Greening Disease

The Florida Department of Citrus requested that the National Academies assist them with assessing the urgency and response necessary to combat huanglongbing, a bacterial disease known commonly as the citrus greening disease. 

The greening disease was first discovered in Florida in 2005.  It also has been found in Brazil and other citrus producing countries.  It is a bacterial disease spread by the Asian citrus psyllid insect.  Diseased trees begin to show symptoms six to 18 months after being infected.  Symptoms include "yellow shoots, blotchy leaf color, reduced amount of fruit, and fruits that are abnormally small, lopsided, or 'off' in flavor."

The report concluded that in 2008, the greening disease led Florida orange juice production to drop several percentage points.  Progression of the disease can ruin an orchard in seven to 10 years.  Future devastation to the Flordia citrus industry is likely as the disease spreads and intensifies.

There currently is no cure for the greening disease.  Therefore, the report concluded that urgency and management is necessary to control the spread of the disease.  They recommended a three part policy that includes: 1) production of mandated propagation material in insect-proof facilities; 2) reduction of Asian citrus psyllid populations; and 3) prompt removal of infected trees.

The report also concluded that:
"The most powerful long-term management tool likely will be the cultivation of citrus trees resistant to the bacteria that cause citrus greening and to the Asian citrus psyllid, the committee said. Genetic engineering holds the greatest hope for generating trees with these traits."

"The greater use of insecticide sprays, as currently "required for successful suppression of the Asian citrus psyllid population, runs the risk of the insect developing resistance to the insecticides, the number of beneficial insects decreasing, and the groundwater being contaminated."
The report was sponsored by the Florida Department of Citrus and the National Academy of Sciences (consisting of the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council)Photo Credit: USDA, Agricultural Research Service, March 2010

For more see:

"Destructive Citrus Greening Disease Affecting Florida Could Be Combated with Bateria-Resistant Trees, Early Detection, Coordinated Efforts, Says Report," News from National Academies, 23 March 2010.

Strategic Planning for the Florida Citrus Industry: Addressing Citrus Greening.  National Academies Press, 2010.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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