Yianni Lagos, chief executive officer of Soilcea, told the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC) in October about his company’s efforts to use CRISPR gene editing to aid the citrus industry in its struggles with canker and HLB. Soilcea was founded to find solutions to these citrus diseases. The company has exclusive licenses to patents from the University of Florida to cure these deadly pathogens using CRISPR precision breeding.
Lagos said CRISPR precision breeding technology does not add any foreign material to the citrus tree. Instead, it removes the susceptibility genes to turn off the plant’s pathogen interaction to create resistance to citrus canker and HLB. Lagos stated that CRISPR-edited citrus trees can be disease resistant, higher yielding and less reliant on pesticides. More importantly, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these trees are considered non-GMO. GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun the exemption process for this form of CRISPR breeding.
To date, there are over 600 CRISPR-edited plants in the Soilcea lab, Lagos reported. Soilcea began testing the plants a few years ago. The first test was called reverse grafting, where leaves from the CRISPR-edited plants were grafted onto a diseased tree. Results showed the tree continued to grow with no signs of disease or bacteria. After allowing those trees to grow a little bigger, traditional grafting was then performed, and the results were very positive. A year later, those trees remain bacteria free.
To speed up the research, similar breeding was performed on tomatoes in order to obtain definitive results within a couple of months. The results were very promising, and the tomato plant showed no signs of bacteria.
Lagos said some CRISPR-edited Valencias will be tested soon using the transformation method that the USDA considers to be non-GMO.
The presentation was made during the FCC’s Scientific Research Committee meeting.
Source: Florida Department of Citrus
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