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Citrus greening disease has caused orange production in the United States to decrease by half over the past decade; it threatens to destroy the US$3.3 billion industry entirely. Now, an agricultural company, Southern Gardens Citrus, based in Florida, has applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for permission to use an engineered version of a virus that would attack the bacterium behind citrus greening. The public comment period ended last week; the USDA will now assess the possible environmental effects of the engineered virus. Field trials of the engineered citrus tristeza virus are currently underway. If the USDA approves the virus, it would be the first time such a method has been used commercially. Additionally, this article states, because the virus does not alter the fruit, “It could also provide an opportunity to sidestep the regulations and public stigma attached to genetically engineered crops.” Carolyn Slupsky, a food scientist at the University of California, Davis, said, “There’s a real race on right now to try to save the citrus. This disease is everywhere, and it’s horrible.” Scientists are also looking to edit the genome of citrus trees using CRISPR-Cas9 in an effort to make them more resistant to the pest, or engineer the trees in such a way as to prevent disease transmission. “There are great scientific opportunities here,” says Bryce Falk, a plant pathologist at UC Davis. “We need to take advantage of new technologies.” Still, one question dominates, this article says: will the citrus industry still be around by the time the solutions make it to the groves? “It’s an incredibly devastating disease,” says Fred Gmitter, who breeds new citrus varieties at the University of Florida. “Growers needed answers ten years ago.”
Original Article: Geneticists Enlist Engineered Virus and CRISPR to Battle Citrus DiseaseNEXT ARTICLE
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