Researchers say GMO citrus trees could combat greening

10/08/2013 12:52:00 PM
Tom Burfield

“Growers will accept anything that’s accepted by the marketplace,” he says. “The acceptance starts and ends with the consumer.”

No quick solution

If the industry decides to move forward with transgenic trees, change won’t happen overnight.

“Today in Florida, there are approximately 60 million trees that may have to be replaced,” Kress says. “This will take time.”

He expects the first trees to be planted in the next two to four years.

“Full involvement by the industry will be dependent upon the available capacities of nursery operations to grow the trees,” Kress says.

He says it’s not possible today to estimate what the cost of a disease-resistant tree will be for growers, since it’s not known what the total cost of development will be. But he acknowledged that, “if the cost of a disease-resistant tree is prohibitive to the grower, replanting may not be a good business decision.”

Other research

William Dawson, a plant pathologist at the UF Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, also is looking into GMOs and citrus.

“We have those constructs, and we’re looking at it independently,” he says. “We don’t have an answer yet.”

Dawson says he and other researchers also have produced transgenic plants.

“We’re screening about 100 different things,” he says. “We’re hoping we can find something in the 100, but we’re still looking and trying and scraping and digging and beating our head against a wall.”

Getting a definitive test is time consuming, he says, and researchers are getting many variations in their controls.

Meadows emphasizes that GMOs are only one tool the industry is looking at to fight citrus greening. The industry has been using coordinated pesticide management efforts, and there is research into biological controls, for example.

“We’re hopeful,” Dawson says. “We’re running just as fast as we can.”

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