Fight against greening advances
Highlands Today – October 5, 2011
SEBRING – Researchers haven’t found a solution for citrus greening, but they have discovered ways to manage the bacterial disease that attacks crops.
In addition, researchers are encouraged about being able to learn important hereditary information in the sweet orange and Clementine tangerine.
“It’s not a solution, it’s a means through which solutions can be found,” said professor Fred Gmitter of the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center.
Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, has been a difficult problem for the industry. A total of $50 million has been spent over five years in trying to come up with a solution to the devastating disease.
They have come up with a way to attempt to understand the genetic mechanisms underlying the disease process that is known as sequencing citrus genomes.
“Now we can begin to look at genes tolerant to citrus greening,” Gmitter said.
Gmitter noted that lemons are tolerant to HLB. He and others want to find out why an infected lemon tree can produce lots of fruit, while an orange tree collapses and dies.
Being able to identity the genes in citrus and determining what their functions will be is a “big step,” Gmitter said.
He noted the sequencing genomes can help with trying to understand development of colors in citrus and resistance to canker.
“Genomics will be to the future what broadband has been to communication and what highways have been to transportation,” said Mark Poznansky, president and CEO of Ontario Genomics Institute in Canada.
Gmitter said the approach has changed toward citrus greening.
“Three years ago it was all gloom and doom,” Gmitter said. “We woke up with greening and didn’t know we had it. People started to panic.”
Growers are learning how to manage it. If it can be controlled, the disease will not be “the death sentence,” he said.
The industry has been active in spraying the Asian citrus psyllid, the bug that carries HLB. Gmitter added that another way to fight the disease has been to apply nutrients to the leaves.
According to Florida Citrus Mutual, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will fund $11 million for citrus disease research over the next four years.
A total of $2 million will be sent to the Agricultural Research Service in Fort Pierce, according to Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Florida Citrus Mutual.
Meadows said progress is being made, but “there s no silver bullet.”
He said the ultimate goal is to develop trees that are resistant to disease, but that is several years away.