Battling the Bacteria Inside Psyllids

Tacy CalliesPsyllids


Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) associate professor, recently discussed her research on bacteria associated with Asian citrus psyllids. This includes endosymbiotic bacteria that live inside of psyllids as well as the liberibacter that causes citrus greening disease. Her research is looking at how these microorganisms can be targeted inside the psyllid to reduce transmission of liberibacter in the field.

“What we find is that when we utilize some antimicrobial compounds, including some of the bactericides that are being used in the field, they end up knocking down some of the helpful bacterial that the psyllid relies on for survival,” Pelz-Stelinski said. “So that, in turn, ended up reducing the fitness or the survival of the psyllids. We also see that psyllids can pick up some of these antimicrobials and it will actually reduce the liberibacter inside the psyllids.”

She explains that two things are happening: 1) reduction in transmission of liberibacter and 2) reduction in the health of the psyllids.

“The psyllid relies on some of these bacteria for nutrition and some of the other functions that it needs to survive,” she says, adding that without these bacteria, the psyllids may not reproduce as much and their lifespan is significantly reduced. However, she notes this is very dependent on the concentration of the dose of antimicrobials the psyllids ingest. “If it comes at the right time and the right dosage … that impacts how good (the psyllids) are going to be as vectors.”

Pelz-Stelinski says additional research is examining how the bacteria inside the psyllids can be altered. “One of our goals is really to be able to manipulate those (bacteria) and try to use them almost as internal biological control tools to make the psyllids poorer vectors for liberibacter,” she concludes.

To hear Pelz-Stelinski’s full interview on psyllid research, listen to the May episode of the All In For Citrus podcast, a joint venture of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media.

About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine