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Invasive insect threatens iconic Florida citrus, your orange juice

First Published Aug 25 2014 09:29AM      Last Updated Aug 25 2014 10:34 am

In this Friday, July 25, 2014 photo, Benny McLean, of Uncle Matt's organic orange juice company, holds up a vial containing the tamarixia wasp which they release in their orange groves in hopes of combating the citrus greening disease, in Clermont, Fla. Florida's $9 billion citrus industry is facing its biggest threat yet by a tiny invasive bug called the Asian Citrus Psyllid, which carries bacteria that are left behind when the psyllid feeds on a citrus tree's leaves. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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The war room in the fight against the yellow dragon is found in Lake Alfred, 30 miles southwest of Walt Disney World, in a nondescript cluster of buildings at the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center.

There, some of the world’s top citrus researchers — from the U.S., China, Brazil, India — slouch over microscopes and peer into makeshift greenhouses, hoping to unlock the puzzle that is greening. They talk about nucleotides and genomes like regular folks order a sandwich.

The researchers are concentrating on two things: a short-term workaround that will allow existing trees to survive, and a long-term solution — possibly three to five years away — to develop a greening resistant tree.



"A lot of people are looking for miracle cures," said Jude Grosser, a horticulture professor who has spent his 30-year career developing citrus varieties and is now focused on solving greening. "But the answer for greening will be a number of different pieces. Our part is the genetic resistance to the disease."

Some growers are taking matters into their own hands. Rick Kress, president of Southern Gardens Citrus, has hired a private team of researchers to work on genetically engineering a greening resistant tree with the DNA from spinach. He understands that introducing juice from a genetically modified orange would create another hurdle because of the public’s perception of such foods.

But the alternative — no juice at all — is unthinkable.

"Irrespective of the challenges," Kress insisted, "Florida orange juice is not going to go away."

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

 

 

 

 

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