Sustainable Living: citrus greening

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Niki holding oranges

During today’s (10/25/2021) sustainable living show we talked to Niki Barber, who is a plant pathologist and has managed a lab at the University of Florida in the department of Plant Pathology focusing on the research of antimicrobial effects of treatments on bacterial pathogens.   

Over the last 4 years, she has been researching the antimicrobial effects of treatments on a broad range of bacterial pathogens to economically important crops that we are dependent on. Citrus greening bacteria is something Barber focused on. 

Citrus greening is one of the world’s most serious citrus diseases. There is no known cure for citrus greening and while it is not a threat to human health, citrus greening greatly reduces citrus production. Once infected with the disease, citrus trees usually decline within 5 to 12 years, whereas healthy commercial trees are typically productive for over 50 years. 

“I think there is hope, but it won’t just be my treatment or one treatment alone. I think that it’s going to be a combination of treatments and management practices that will help us to continue to grow citrus,” said Barber when talking about treatments to help combat citrus greening.

The research being done to combat citrus greening takes quite a bit of time, but Roberts mentions other scientists at UF have discovered breakthroughs when it comes to culturing. 

“There’s also scientists at UF that are getting close to being able to culture the bacteria that is responsible for causing disease so that would be a big step in helping us study the pathogen…when something is not able to be cultured and studied in the lab, it is very hard to understand the mechanisms behind pathogenicity (allowing it to be pathogenic on the plant),” said Roberts

It can be hard to diagnose when your citrus tree is suffering from citrus greening as the disease can get well established within the tree for 3-4 years before you notice any symptoms. 

If you are growing citrus trees or just happen to have one growing in your backyard, Roberts tells us how to spot symptoms of citrus greening. 

“One of the signature symptoms of citrus greening is a yellow modeling of the leaves,” said Barber. “It almost looks like a nutrient deficiency, but it is actually citrus greening. One way you can tell it apart from nutrient deficiency is that it’s kind of uneven whereas nutrient deficiency appears very evenly discolored on the leaves. The very obvious one, when the disease has progressed, is your fruit will not ripen and there will be premature dropping of the fruit.”

You can listen to the show here

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