Scientist Race to Use Virus to Save Florida Orange Trees

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The Florida citrus industry has been hit hard by a disease called citrus greening or huanglongbing. Citrus greening is a bacterial disease that is spread by an insect called Asian citrus psyillid. The disease has devasted Florida groves and has also been found in California. The disease was found in Florida in 2005. Florida orange production in 2004 was 242 million boxes (90 pounds per box), but has fallen to 70 million boxes in 2016. Such a reduction in production is a threat to the infrastructure of the Florida citrus industry.

Controlling psyillids and destroying contaminated trees has not been particularly effective in stopping the spread of the disease. There have been efforts to genetically engineer a varieties that are resistant to the disease, but there is fear in the industry that consumers will not accept orange juice made from genetically engineered trees.

Scientist have taken genes from spinach and put them into a common citrus tristeza virus to protect the trees from citrus greening. The spinach genes in the virus code for proteins that protect the tree from citrus greening bacteria. The technology was developed by Southern Gardens Citrus Nursury, LLC. Southern Gardens has requested a permit to use genetically engineer citurs tristeza virus as a biological control agent to help manage citrus greening disease. This notice of intent was published in the federal register on April 10, 2017

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