Trio of University of Florida projects seek to beat citrus greening

Trio of University of Florida projects seek to beat citrus greening

The University of Florida has received federal grants nearly $4.5 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to fight citrus greening, aka huanglongbing/HLB.

Three teams of researchers from the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) will be studying new ways to manage Asian citrus psyllids, the pests that spread HLB, according to a news release. Researchers from other institutions are also working on the projects.

The first project, led by Bryony Bonning, entomology and nematology professor, uses a bacteria-derived pesticidal protein combined with gene silencing to manage the psyllids, according to the release.

The goal is to create an environmentally-benign way for growers to control the Asian citrus psyllid with an integrated pest management strategy.

The second project, led by Amit Levy, assistant professor of plant pathology, examines how the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease — Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) — interacts with phloem, tissue that’s buried in the stem of citrus trees. There is a significant gap in understanding how the bacteria interacts with the phloem, according to the release.

The third project, led by UF/IFAS microbiology and cell science professor Zhonglin Mou seeks to speed up the process to release HLB-tolerant/resistant trees to growers. Research has generated transgenic lines that are tolerant, but they must go through an extensive approval process. Researchers are reproducing greening-resistant makeup in non-transgenetically modified plants through gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9 .

“These grants build on an existing portfolio of success in finding solutions to combat citrus greening throughout Florida’s citrus groves,” Michael Rogers, director of UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center and coordinator of the UF/IFAS statewide citrus program, said in the release. “They will contribute to the solutions we are providing that support citrus growers in sustainably and profitably growing citrus throughout the state.”

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