HLB: The Path Forward

Josh McGillHLB Management, Research

Rick Dantzler, chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), gave an update at the recent Florida Citrus Show on the latest efforts to find solutions to the HLB problem.

Dantzler acknowledged the frustration growers have expressed in the long battle against the disease and the challenge it has presented to the research community. Because of this, he said the CRDF staff has produced a document called the “Pathway to a Sustainable Florida Citrus Industry.”

“About four months ago, CRDF sat down and asked where we were,” Dantzler said. “What is the way out of this? That resulted in the pathway document. We did this for three reasons. Frist, we wanted to take an honest assessment of where we were. And the second reason was to be sure we were not chasing the latest shiny thing. We need a strategy and not pinging back and forth like a pinball. Finally, we had funders, legislators and growers asking where all this money is going. We knew we had to put on paper what we thought was the way out of this.”

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The document stresses the importance of “bridge research” that carries growers to the point of eradication of HLB or making it functionally irrelevant. Results of this work could be treatments to improve production and fruit quality while the disease is still prevalent. CRDF will accelerate research required to see that projects on bridge research make it into the field as quickly as possible.

Some of the research priorities include:

    • Antimicrobial and plant-defense-inducing peptides are being developed by many companies to provide near-term management of HLB. They have the potential to transform tree and plant health, as they have already done in human health.
    • When antimicrobial materials effective against HLB are identified, how will they be applied to trees? This is another CRDF priority. Tree injection and other delivery methods are being investigated.
    • This is an area that has been ongoing since HLB was confirmed in Florida, driven by growers and researchers modifying traditional production practices. A recent example includes the use of gibberellic acid to combat fruit drop.
    • Ultimately, a long-term solution to HLB will likely come in the form of resistant or tolerant rootstocks or scions. Promising research is already developing such varieties with conventional breeding, but genetic technology like CRISPR could deliver the solution growers have long waited on.

The pathway document predicts timelines for various solutions in the research pipeline, but Dantzler acknowledged during his presentation that any and all solutions can’t come quickly enough.

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Frank Giles


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