Huanglongbing, or HLB, is the Chinese term for the Yellow Dragon Disease–usually referred to as citrus greening. The disease first appeared in the USA in the Miami area in 2005 and has since spread through Florida orange groves and migrated to southern California. The disease is a terminal infection of the tree, culminating in its decline and death. Currently there is no cure.
The Florida citrus industry is crashing, so scientists have attempted many strategies to solve the problem, including genetically engineering disease-resistant trees. The problem is that the public remains highly skeptical of modern biotechnology, despite evidence of its safety.
But one promising solution is on the horizon thanks to the Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV), which infects most trees in Florida with zero consequences. Scientists have co-opted the virus to deliver an anti-microbial payload, a peptide that may interfere with HLB, without harming the plant. The solution allows producers to avoid the stigma associated with “GMO” trees while saving the citrus industry. Plant pathologist Steve Savage joins University of Florida geneticist Kevin Folta to explain the powerful technology and its important application.
Steve Savage is a plant pathologist and agriculture industry consultant. Since 2017, Savage has hosted the podcast POP Agriculture in association with the CropLife Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @grapedoc
The Talking Biotech podcast, produced by Kevin Folta, is available for listening or subscription: