Laser Technology May Be Key to Rehabilitating HLB Trees

Daniel CooperCitrus, Citrus Greening, HLB Management, Research, Technology

A University of Florida (UF) scientist hopes to improve on laser technology to enhance the efficiency of spray solutions aimed at restoring vitality to greening-affected citrus trees and reducing amounts of chemicals applied.

With the updated technology, a laser shoots infra-red energy pulses at citrus tree leaves, said Ed Etxeberria, a professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). That energy cracks the cuticles on the leaves and increases the penetration of agrochemicals — including bactericides — into the leaves by more than 4,000 percent, he said.


Ed Etxeberria

“We have vastly improved the basic parameters of the technology by using different laser wavelengths and other optics to make this a much more user-friendly technology, not to mention its increased efficiency and lower cost,” Etxeberria said.

“We’ve made it a lot more effective,” said Etxeberria, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida.

The waxy cuticle on the leaf naturally prevents sprays from penetrating citrus leaves, said Etxeberria. The laser exfoliates the wax, creating cracks in the cuticle, thereby letting substances reach the undisturbed living cells underneath the leaf’s surface, Etxeberria said. Once substances get into the leaf, the vascular tissue — phloem and xylem — picks them up, and they move throughout the tree.

“This is one of the advantages of this technology — that uptake can be controlled,” he said. “With this system, you can provide the citrus trees — or other crop plants — with the necessary crop protection products directly on the leaves.”

So far in the lab, the new technology works like a charm, Etxeberria said. He predicts the updated laser technology will be very simple to use in the field as well. But first, UF/IFAS agricultural engineers will have to adapt the laser to grove conditions.

The UF/IFAS researcher came up with the idea for the updated laser technology after much research showed bactericides needed to be absorbed faster to fight diseases in citrus trees. Research got going when Luis Ponce, a visiting scientist and colleague of Etxeberria’s came to his lab and built a new laser machine with increased flexibility and maneuverability. That replaced the laser machine Etxeberria had previously worked with.

UF/IFAS researchers tout the fact that the laser technology ensures chemical sprays are delivered to the foliage where needed.

The results are a more efficient application with substantially reduced chemical use, Etxeberria said.

The bottom line, according to Etxeberria: “The laser technology ensures chemical sprays that are needed to move systemically within the citrus plant to fight diseases such as greening are able to do so instead of remaining on the leaf surface where they are less effective.”

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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