Nabil Killiny, an associate professor of plant pathology for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has been studying the relationship between the bacterium that causes HLB (Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus) and its vector the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP). Globally, insect-borne vector pathogens are responsible for more than 700 plant diseases. HLB ranks high among those in terms of prevalence and economic importance.
Recently, Killiny hosted a webinar on this relationship that illustrated how the HLB pathogen and ACP are made for one another. His work focused on a comprehensive synthesis of the global research that has been done on this pest/vector relationship.
Killiny’s work has shown that, while infection of the HLB pathogen is a negative overall for the ACP, it increases the vector’s fitness. This means the pathogen has evolved a beneficial relationship with ACP that helps it spread within populations and to citrus trees. This is partly why the disease has been so successful spreading throughout Florida groves.
Like humans when sickened by disease, ACP infected by HLB face negative side effects. The insect’s lifespan is shortened, but the bacteria increase the ACP’s fertility rates and feeding activity. In simple terms, CLas makes the ACP even more hungry for citrus and mating.
Killiny noted this comprehensive compilation of studies on the ACP’s interaction with the HLB pathogen could lead to a better understanding of the spread of the disease in Florida groves, and ultimately, improved measures to control the ACP. Those measures could include RNA interference to knock down genes encoding psyllid proteins that interact with the HLB bacterium to block disease transmission.
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