Mike Roberts

Citrus Greening Research Highlights Cooperation and Women in Ag Leadership

CITRUS GREENING has been at work for more than a decade in Florida citrus groves, and the devastation it has brought to the Sunshine State’s citrus industry is enormous. Citrus greening also threatens the citrus industries of other citrus-growing states; the pathogen was detected in residential citrus in California in 2012 and 2017. The best minds in citrus research are banding together to fight the threat of citrus greening, and it’s highlighting how cooperation and women in ag likely will be important keys to solving this problem.

Wendo Ma, a professor of plant pathology in the University of California, Riverside’s (UCR) College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, recently led a group of scientists from across the country—many of them women—in research that looks into the molecular mechanism that allows the citrus greening bacteria to get around the natural immune system of citrus trees. “Citrus trees, like all plants, have complex immune systems to prevent pathogenic infection, so the question is ‘how does the CLas pathogen evade that immunity so it can cause disease?” Ma asked in a recent article about the research on CitrusIndustry.net.

Published in the science journal Nature Communications, the research found that the citrus greening bacteria inhibit enzyme activity that controls the ability of a citrus tree to fight the infection. The research team believes it could lead to methods for beating the disease, especially utilizing CRISPR gene editing technology. “This study represents an important step toward better understanding the HLB disease mechanism, which will help us develop novel approaches to control this unstoppable disease,” Ma explained in the article.

It’s a fine example of researchers from a variety of educational institutions—the University of California, Texas A&M University, the University of Florida, and even Oxford University — working together to solve the scourge of citrus greening.

This column is sponsored by Griffin Fertilizer Co.

BIO: Mike Roberts is the Vice President of Frostproof, Fla.-based Griffin Fertilizer Co. Roberts joined the company in November 2011. He has spent the majority of his career in the fertilizer/agchem industry. Roberts earned a Bachelor of Science degree in citrus production from Florida Southern College in Lakeland. He is currently the chairman of the Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association. For more information, visit griffinfertilizer.com.     

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