Analyzing consumer preferences for gene edits in the fruit industry

University of Delaware researches gene editing solutions to combat citrus greening

Citrus greening is still a disease that is fiercely attacking the U.S. citrus industry’s bottom line. Spread by the invasive Asian citrus psyllid insect, the disease now affects every citrus growing region in the country, costing growers $975 million annually. Once infected, a citrus tree produces small, bitter fruit, helps spread the disease and then dies prematurely.

As the disease is an incredibly serious threat, scientists hope to fight back using gene editing. This technological solution can be applied in multiple ways — for example, making citrus trees resistant to disease or reducing the viability of this invasive insect. While these technologies show promise, consumers will have to determine if the technologies are acceptable.

In a study published in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, the University of Delaware’s Brandon McFadden, Kelly Davidson and John Bernard as well as Brittany Anderton from iBiology examined public attitudes toward gene editing. The researchers analyzed how common communication strategies impacted support for using gene editing to reduce pests and disease. McFadden, Davidson and Bernard are professors in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics within UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“It is a technology that will be used to solve major societal problems in areas like the agriculture and medical fields,” said McFadden. “But there is a low familiarity with gene editing because it is relatively new and a very technical subject.”

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