Research Team Aims for HLB Resistance/Tolerance

Tacy CalliesHLB Management, Research

Feng Luo and Clemson students

A team led by Clemson University is receiving a second multimillion-dollar federal grant to continue research into HLB. Feng Luo, the Marvin J. Pinson, Jr. ’46 Distinguished Professor in the School of Computing, is the principal investigator. The project is funded with $4.1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA).

Co-principal investigators on the project include Yongping Duan and Matthew Mattia, both of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Fred G. Gmitter, Zhanao Deng, Mark A. Ritenour, John M. Chater, Zhengfei Guan and Jude W. Grosser, all of the University of Florida; Olufemi Alabi of Texas A&M; and Chandrika Ramadugu of the University of California, Riverside.

The research aims to counteract the disease and ensure that the future citrus varieties developed are both hardy and economically viable for commercial production.

The team will explore various ways of developing citrus cultivars that are highly tolerant or resistant to HLB. By employing artificial intelligence algorithms, the team will be able to sift through the genetic information of citrus plants at a speed and precision unachievable by traditional methods. This accelerates the identification process of HLB-resistant variants.

The research builds on a previous study that began in 2017 and was funded with $4.3 million from USDA NIFA, also with Luo as principal investigator. In that first phase, researchers demonstrated that citrus plants that are resistant or tolerant to HLB can be selected in commercial groves and breeding orchards for large-scale cultivation.

However, the selection and evaluation process still requires a long time, and the second phase will be aimed at finding ways to speed it up. Researchers also plan to use the second phase to transition from the lab to the field, conducting evaluations in Florida, Texas and California to test the real-world efficacy of their findings.

“Our goal here is about more than scientific exploration,” Luo said. “It’s about practical solutions that can help growers more quickly. The selected citrus cultivars will be the most durable, eco-friendly and cost-effective solution to this devastating disease so far.”

“Working alongside such a dedicated team, we’re channeling our collective expertise to identify citrus varieties that can stand tall against HLB,” Gmitter said. “Through our combined efforts and expertise, we’re aiming to develop solutions that are both scientifically sound and practically applicable in the field.”

In the April 2023 All In For Citrus podcast, learn about efforts by Gmitter and his University of Florida colleagues to develop trees that will help growers cope with HLB.

Source: Clemson University