Update on Spinach Genes for Citrus Tree Tolerance

Ernie NeffCitrus Greening, Genetic Engineering

HLB tolerance
HLB tolerance

Rick Kress

At the recent Florida Citrus Mutual conference, Southern Gardens Citrus President Rick Kress provided an update on research by his company and Texas A&M into use of a spinach gene to create HLB tolerance in trees, and hopefully resistance. “We have tolerance,” he said. “We would certainly like to see immunity down the road, but we’ll work with tolerance and accept tolerance as we go.”

The research is twofold, Kress said in an interview with Southeast AgNet, Citrus Industry magazine’s sister company. “We are focusing on a genetically engineered tree,” he said. “We’re also focusing on an application using the citrus tristeza virus (CTV) as a vector to carry the gene into the tree … Both technologies have promise.”

Developing a tree with biotechnology will likely take longer than getting the CTV to serve as a vector for the gene, Kress said. “Once we develop that tree, we’ve still got to build it …We can have commercially available trees, but the caution in all of this is: How can we have a sufficient quantity of trees to have an impact on the industry? That’s the challenge we’re dealing with.”

Consumer acceptance of a genetically engineered tree is an issue that needs to be addressed, Kress said. “Biotech is a major concern among consumers today … Down the road, we’re in a situation that if biotech is the answer (to HLB) and it’s not accepted, we may not have citrus.”

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large