Researchers in the U.S. and Brazil have finally identifcied a molecule that could help in the battle against citrus greening disease. Citrus greening, considered one of the most serious plant diseases in the world, started showing up in Florida around 2005. It has since threatened the citrus industry across the entire U.S. It was identified in Brazil at about the same time and has since wiped out nearly half of the countries orange tree area. The disease is known as huánglóngbìng (HLB) in Chinese, which literally translates to “yellow dragon disease”. It is caused by a bacteria that is transmitted via a jumping plant louse called Diaphorina citri, aka the Asian citrus psyllid. A six-year study of these pests is what actually lead to the molecule discovery. Fundo de Defesa da Citricultura (Fundecitrus), a research center sponsored by farmers and orange juice producers in Brazil, in partnership the University of California, Davis and the University of Sao Paulo’s Agricultural College, known as Esalq, believe the breakthrough will effectively help farmers finally control the disease. Researchers now plan to synthesize a pheromone from the molecule and create a topical product that would work as a “trap” to attract and neutralize the insect. Understand, this is not a cure, but it is a way to curb transmission of the disease. It could also be available within as little as a year’s time. Researchers are working on a few different options to combat the disease directly, such as an outright cure or genetic modification to create resistance to it. However, these approaches will take years more of research and a multitude of regulatory hoops. At best, most feel these types of solutions are five years away. Citrus greening can render the fruit of a tree unusable in the course of just one season and most infected trees die within three years. Obviously, the industry is desperate for an effective near-term solution, even if it only tackles a portion of the problem. (Source: Reuters, NPR)

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