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Mexico: A gene from spinach helps citrus resist disease

Besides being a food, spinach is now being used as a cure for the disease of citrus greening, or Huanglongbing.

Dr. Erik Mirkov, Texas AgriLife research plant pathologist at the Texas Center for Research and Extension in Weslaco, has conducted successful studies with transgenic trees that have shown resistance in greenhouse trials and that will be soon planted in Florida for field testing.

"This project began with a three-year grant from the US Department of Agriculture when they were interested in finding resistance to citrus canker," said Mirkov.

According to the researcher, spinach proteins had broad-spectrum resistance against multiple bacteria and fungi so he began testing its GM trees against greening.

"We injected canker in the leaves of transgenic plants with spinach genes and observed that the bacterial lesions didn't spread," he said. "But it also showed that transgenic plants infected with citrus greening in the trials flourished and produced many leaves, while non-transgenic trees only produced one leaf."

Mirkov's GM citrus currently includes Red River and Red Ruby grapefruit, Hamlin and sweet Marrs oranges, red Rhode Valencia oranges and three patterns: Flying Dragon, C22 and Carrizo.

"There are many regulations and requirements to meet, but the worldwide citrus industry is at risk without immunity to citrus greening. The citrus greening is the citrus producer's worst nightmare because, currently, there is no cure. It can last for years before it can be detected. "

The citrus greening could have originated in China in 1900, according to the USDA website. It is spread mainly by two species of psyllid insects. Greening was detected in Florida in 2005 and earlier this year in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It is not harmful to humans, but it has harmed trees in Asia, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Brazil.

Source: Hoy Tamaulipas

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