Hamlin orange trees genetically engineered to produce a natural insecticide that wards off Asian citrus psyllids may be planted in Florida field trials as soon as required permits are granted.
The trees, three years in the works, were developed by Cornell University scientists, according to a news release.
Plant pathologists Kerik Cox and Herb Aldwinkle identified a handful of naturally occurring insecticides.
Technicians used genetic engineering to insert the insecticidal genes individually and in groups into tomato plants.
The plants were then exposed to tomato psyllids, which are closely related to Asian citrus psyllids.
Asian citrus psyllids carry bacteria responsible for citrus greening, or huanglongbing.
The disease is harmless to humans but causes citrus fruit to remain green, causes an off taste in the fruit, stunts citrus trees and may even kill trees.
The researchers found some lines successfully warded off the tomato pests and inserted the most promising genes into Hamlin orange plants.
Aldwinkle says he hopes to have at least preliminary trial results within a year.
The researchers are working with Southern Gardens Citrus Inc. of Clewiston.