Can a novel ‘genetic’ pesticide knock out citrus greening disease before it devastates US orange groves?

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HLB yellow dragon citrus greening disease has infected orchards in Florida and around the world devastating the citrus crops. Credit: Kansas State University
[Citrus greening] disease has already decimated citrus groves in the other major citrus-producing states of Florida, California and Texas. According to John Caravetta, the associate director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the disease has also spread to Mexico.

“We’re surrounded,” he said.

Though the microscopic insect that transmits the disease, the Asian citrus psyllid, has been found across Arizona, he said the disease hasn’t been detected within the state yet, making it a rare haven for citrus trees.

The state wants to keep it that way.

While the state agency works on killing psyllids, the University of Arizona is collaborating with researchers across the nation to develop a pesticide that targets certain psyllid genes so that either the psyllids die, the psyllids can’t reproduce or the psyllids can’t transmit the disease.

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The hope is that such a genetic pesticide can stop further spread of citrus greening …. For now, farmers wait, keeping an ever-watchful eye for signs of a disease that lurks on Arizona’s doorstep.

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