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Piecing Together the Puzzle of the Citrus Genome


Researchers are Working Together to Remodel the Citrus Genome in Hopes of Fighting HLB

by ERIKA ALDRICH

If you’re a scientist associated with the citrus industry, your efforts are likely geared towards finding a workable solution to huánglóngbìng (HLB), otherwise known as citrus greening.  If your research also happens to have applications in other areas of the citrus industry, so much the better.  That’s the case with a recent citrus breakthrough where an international team of scientists, including UF/IFAS professor of Horticulture Science Fred Gmitter, successfully sequenced the citrus genome. The achievement holds promise for fighting citrus greening as well as benefiting other areas of the citrus industry as well.

Details of the Research

The team analyzed the DNA of 60 types of citrus, sequencing each types specific genome to get the complete set of genes present in each type of citrus.  This complete genetic profile allows scientists to see the development of each type of citrus over time and even trace citrus back to its origins.

Gmitter spoke on the breakthrough as the keynote speaker at the 100 years celebration event at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, and he’s contributed to different articles and blogs on the topic.

“It is like creating an immense jigsaw puzzle that overlaps to some degree, and then assembling these pieces into larger groups, and assembling the larger groups into even larger parts of the genome,” Gmitter said of the genetic mapping in a UF/IFAS press release.

Through assembling the jigsaw of citrus’ genome, Gmitter and the research team found that today’s citrus originated 8 million years ago from 10 original citrus species in the Himalayas of Southeast Asia.

Utilizing the Research

The mapping of citrus’ genome holds promises for both fighting citrus greening and improving citrus as a whole.  For citrus greening, Gmitter shared that “researchers who might be looking for genes to target for citrus greening resistance now can search through the many genomes of tolerant types and compare with sensitive types.”  Basically, scientists can use those jigsaw pieces to help create a citrus-greening resistant citrus tree.

The research has applications beyond saving the Florida citrus industry from citrus greening.  Having the complete set of citrus genes mapped out gives scientists the knowledge to create a better piece of citrus.  “By improving the condition and understanding of our genetics and breeding knowledge base, the science becomes open to exciting new possibilities in genetic improvement,” Gmitter said in the press release.  “And as citrus breeders, our goals have always included improvements in characteristics that benefit not only producers but consumers as well.”

Characteristics like flavor, size, and cold hardiness are just a few features scientists have access to via citrus genes.  Scientists now have the task of putting those puzzles, like solving citrus greening, together.