HLB pre-screening through analyzing plant metabolism holds potential to be a relatively inexpensive option for growers. Caroline Slupsky, professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science and the Department of Technology at the University of California, Davis, is looking at the metabolism of citrus trees and analyzing changes as indicators of stress and disease.
Plants’ metabolic pathways change in response to stressors. HLB infection changes tree metabolism in a very specific way, as a direct response to the type of bacteria infecting the plant. Other diseases cause metabolic changes to citrus trees, but the metabolic pathways of HLB are unique.
A key goal of this research is to offer screening for HLB sooner rather than intensive testing later. Some research studies have shown disease indicators in results as early as six weeks from initial bacterial infection of the tree in greenhouse research environments and tree grafting. Slupsky predicts that the time between infection and screening results will continue to narrow as the study continues. Advantages of using this test include early detection, it’s a relatively inexpensive method of testing and it could be used to screen and identify large areas of infection.
Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will aid in further development of software, making this an inexpensive method of HLB screening, identifying areas of infection and then moving on to a more involved process. If trees are asymptomatic, sampling for other HLB-detection methods may be extensive, many requiring eight or more samples. Pre-screening through plant metabolism monitoring has potential to be a less intensive, inexpensive preliminary method of screening and could aid substantially in the fight against HLB.
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