Researchers from the University of California Riverside (UCR) have made an important discovery that shows promise for controlling Huanglongbing (HLB) in citrus. The new HLB treatment attacks the bacterium that causes the disease using a particular peptide found in wild citrus relatives. While the material still needs to undergo more rigorous testing to evaluate its overall potential, the citrus industry is hopeful that the early findings will carry over into the next phase of research.
“There’s been a lot of frustration with projects over the years, so it’s good news that researchers are saying that they’ve identified a peptide that could be viable in a commercial setting,” said Casey Creamer, President of California Citrus Mutual. “We’re optimistic about this and excited to hear some good news, but we know there’s a long way to go in the research process.”
The research project was led by UCR geneticist Hailing Jin, who identified an antimicrobial peptide that is naturally resistant to HLB. The tolerance for HLB allows the tree to grow normally even after infection. After isolating the genes that hold the tolerance for HLB, Jin was able to determine a peptide that can be used to fight HLB infection.
“When I heard that Australian finger limes and several other plant varieties have this tolerance, I tried to identify the molecular mechanism in the lime, this natural tolerance,” Jin explained. “The antimicrobial peptide that we identified seems to be promising in controlling Huanglongbing disease in the lab and the greenhouse setting.”
Thus far in the research, the peptide appears to perform well even under conditions of significant heat. Warm temperatures have been an issue for another recent approach to combatting HLB. Florida growers have been applying antibiotics in their orchards, which has not been showing much success. “For this particular antimicrobial peptide we identified, it’s very stable to heat. That’s why we think it will have a better performance than normal antibiotics,” Jin noted.
The new HLB treatment will still need to be tested outside of laboratory conditions and an exclusive, worldwide license agreement with Invaio should help. The industry remains cautiously optimistic that the new peptide will continue to perform well as the research continues. “We thank the researchers for doing this good work and look forward to seeing how the results of these studies and these programs play out and hopefully prove viable in a commercial setting,” Creamer noted.
Listen to Jin’s full interview.