A group of researchers is taking aim at the Asian citrus psyllid and not citrus trees as a target for genetic modification.
The group, led by David Gang, a Washington State University molecular biologist and biochemist, is looking at the genes involved in transmitting citrus greening, also known as huanglongbing or HLB.
Rather than focus on plants, they're studying the gene sequences being expressed as psyllids feed on citrus trees.
Once the group obtains gene expression data, they plan to publish it in a public database for collaborators to use.
Their hope is that the data can be used to develop a "nupsyllid," or new psyllid that won't be able to transmit citrus greening or harbor the citrus greening bacterium in its gut.
Since citrus trees have no natural defense, the researchers have focused on modifying the psyllid.
They also are aware of consumer concerns about genetically modified foods.
The researchers expect the nupsyllid will outcompete, displace and eventually replace the disease-carrying psyllids because the citrus greening disease weakens its insect host.
Gang's work is part of a five-year multi-state, multi-discipline effort being funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.