California citrus

Breakthrough in the Battle Against HLB

Brian GermanFruits & Vegetables, Technology

A significant breakthrough was recently made that should help in the fight against huanglongbing (HLB).  Researchers from Washington State University have been able to successfully culture the bacteria thought to be responsible for HLB, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas).  The development of the bacteria in a lab setting should help researchers better understand CLas and confirm that it is in fact the bacteria that causes HLB symptoms.

hlb“Growing the bacteria outside of plants and psyllids is a big step forward,” said Melinda Klein, Chief Research Scientist with the Citrus Research Board. “If you can break up any of those steps between the transmission to the psyllid or from the psyllid, those are also steps that can really be beneficial.”

As it stands now, infecting a plant with the CLas bacteria for research purposes makes it difficult to effectively assess potential treatments.  Researchers can either use a psyllid to transmit the bacteria or graft infected wood into another tree to cause infection, both of which present issues of consistency.  The level of bacterial infection is not uniform between psyllids, and environmental factors can also significantly impact how materials interact with CLas.  “You can also be transferring other bacteria, or other viruses, when you have to rely on these secondary ways of infecting material,” Klein noted.

Researchers have been working towards the ability to culture the CLas bacterium for nearly 15 years.  Developing CLas bacteria under uniform laboratory conditions will not immediately eliminate the threat of HLB, but it will significantly aid in efforts to prevent and eradicate the disease with further research. 

“If you have a pure bacterial culture, you can make sure that you’re putting the same amount in to standardize your research experiments,” said Klein.  “If you’ve got antibacterial compounds or if you’ve got plants that you think are tolerant you know that you’re putting the same amount of bacteria in.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West