National Academy of Sciences Says Genetic Engineering Could Save Florida’s Oranges

Genetic engineering holds great potential for resisting the threat of diseases that have recently devastated Florida’s citrus industry, according to a report released this week by the National Academy of Sciences.

Since its discovery in 2005, citrus greening disease has spread to nearly every orange-growing county in Florida, carried by an invasive relative of the aphid, the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacterial disease has already cut the state’s orange juice production by several percentage points, leaving swaths of the $9.3 billion industry to sprout misshapen, sour fruit unsuitable even for juicing. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure.

Researchers and farmers have scrambled to halt the disease, culling the insects and infected trees, but they have so far fallen short in finding citrus varieties that resist the disease. This lack of a breeding option means that for a long-term solution, the industry has few options, the academy concluded. 

Conventional plant breeding is unlikely to deliver resistant varieties,” given the little resistance currently found, the report says. “This situation renders genetic engineering … as more viable for developing citrus with resistance.”

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