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UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center

US researchers find viruses that might control insect that causes Citrus Greening

Citrus Greening is present in about 95 percent of the citrus trees in Florid. That is why University of Florida scientists are working toward establishing a new biological method that may help farmers control the insect that transmits the deadly greening disease into citrus trees. By using a virus that may kill the insect, growers may be able to reduce the need for pesticides.

Instead of spraying insecticides, scientists hope to harness the natural enemies of the tiny Asian citrus psyllid to manage the invasive pest, said Ozgur Batuman, a plant pathologist at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.

Batuman is leading a UF/IFAS research team investigating viruses that live in the digestive system of the psyllid. They want to see whether any of them can weaken or kill the insect.

UF/IFAS scientists are getting promising early results with this research. Their latest research suggests a natural process that would kill the insect or at least prevent greening from being transmitted to citrus trees.

Batuman said: “By reducing psyllid populations in their groves, growers hope to increase the quality of fruits and the productive lives of their trees by minimizing the number of times a tree is exposed to the greening pathogen.”

Identifying viruses in the psyllids
By using a test that amplifies DNA, scientists found five viruses in the guts of the psyllids they collected. They believe they can use those viruses to control the psyllids that live in the very groves from which scientists collected them.

With these experiments, for the first time, scientists have taken big strides toward identifying viruses associated with the Florida psyllids. They also now better understand the presence of those viruses in the psyllids.

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