In mid-November, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center hosted an OJ Break educational program in Lake Alfred. Attendees were provided with research updates on CRISPR gene editing and emerging pests.
Nian Wang, a UF/IFAS professor of microbiology and cell science, spoke on his work with CRISPR technology. He provided insight on how the process works, taking a single cell through many replications to hopefully result in a tree that is tolerant or resistant to HLB.
The process takes years, but Wang has now developed several lines of citrus that are ready to move to field trials to test their true resistance to the disease. Wang said he is hopeful that some of those lines will prove to be tolerant or resistant in the field.
UF/IFAS entomologist Lauren Diepenbrock gave an update on her research studying the lebbeck mealybug and an invasive snail (Bulimulus bonariensis).
The lebbeck mealybug has been an increasing problem in recent years and can cause leaf and branch dieback and sooty mold, which makes fruit unmarketable. In severe cases, the pest can kill young trees. Lebbeck mealybugs also can be a problem in individual protective covers and citrus under protective screen.
Diepenbrock said research is underway to better understand the role of natural predators in managing the lebbeck mealybug. “Yes, we are going to use pesticides to control the pest, but if we know which predators are most effective, that will help us from an integrated pest management perspective,” she said.
The invasive snail is a growing problem and hugely annoying where it is a pest. The biggest problem is that the snails cover microjet irrigation and can clog the emitters. But the pest also can cover equipment, barns, screen walls and more.
There are pesticide options to control the snails, including effective baits, but Diepenbrock cautioned some baits can be toxic to nontarget species and should be used carefully. She noted the snails begin to emerge and become active in March, so she encouraged growers to be on the lookout for the pest then.