Everybody loves Florida orange juice. Since its emergence in the late 1940s, the sunny beverage has survived hurricanes and anti-sugar diet crazes to become as common on American breakfast tables as scrambled eggs.
But Florida’s citrus industry is facing a new existential threat: Citrus greening, a bacterial disease spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, is killing Florida’s citrus trees. The disease emerged in 2005 and since then citrus production has slowed. Last year Florida produced only 104.4 million boxes of oranges—its lowest in about 30 years.
Researchers and industry experts say they have a potential solution: genetic engineering. Texas A&M University and University of Florida researchers are separately testing GMO citrus. Erik Mirkov, a plant pathologist at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center who has been working on solutions to citrus greening for nine years, has developed an approach that uses spinach defensins to strengthen oranges’ resistance to greening.
Mirkov says if Americans want to keep orange juice on their tables, genetic engineering is the best option. “Greening is in Florida and Brazil, so the two biggest producers of oranges in the world could potentially not be able to grow them anymore,” Mirkov says. “In a case like this, it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.”
Read full, original article: Does orange juice have to genetically modify or die?