Citrus Research Funding Update

Josh McGill Research

During the recent Florida Citrus Growers’ Institute, Michael Rogers, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center, provided details on recently funded citrus research projects.

citrus research
Many of the research projects focus on management of HLB disease.
(Photo by George Ugartemendia)

“The $16.3 million (from the U.S. Department of Agriculture) will go toward new research or continuing research to keep promising projects going,” Rogers said. 

Eight projects headed by UF/IFAS researchers were funded, and Rogers provided highlights of each.

Nian Wang: This research will study a three-pronged approach to help alleviate stress in HLB-affected trees. The first will be looking for ways to reduce stress with common horticultural practices like fertilization and the use of plant growth regulators. The second will investigate ways of using the citrus tristeza virus vector to express antioxidants that could reduce stress in trees. The third is a longer-term project using CRISPR to silence some of the genes in citrus plants that cause stress.

Megan Dewdney: This project seeks to aggregate all of the published HLB research that has been conducted over the years into a searchable database. This would allow growers to access the information more easily and have confidence in its origins.

“This may sound like an easy project, but it is quite the undertaking. It will be a useful tool for growers,” Rogers said.

John Chater: This research will take a closer look at the rootstocks that have been developed by UF/IFAS to verify resistance or tolerance to HLB.

“We believe we have some rootstocks in our program that provide tolerance, and this work will help verify it,” Rogers said. “And it will seek to better understand how that tolerance is transferred from the rootstock to the scion.”

Zhonglin Mou: Funds will be dedicated to identify CRISPR targets that could be used in fighting HLB.

“One of the challenges with gene editing is the low success rate. Only about 1% of plants are successfully transformed using CRISPR techniques,” Rogers said. “This research will seek various ways to improve that success rate.”

Fernando Alferez: Funds will be allocated to continue research on how the use of brassinosteroids can protect citrus trees from HLB after individual protective covers are removed.

Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski: The project will investigate ways to develop a new line of insect cell cultures of the HLB bacteria. The insect lines would be used to actually grow the HLB bacteria. This could help scientists more quickly identify HLB treatments.

Jude Grosser: Funds will go toward research to find ways to increase the speed of the cleanup of new plant materials in the breeding process, so new varieties can get into growers’ hands more quickly. If successful, it could speed up the process by two years.

Lukasz Stelinski: This study would focus on using new technology and artificial intelligence to create hormonal blends that could be used as psyllid attractants for use in things like traps. This research has stalled in the past because the attractant hormones don’t hold up well in the field. New technology might overcome this problem.

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