With all the bad news we’ve had this year, it’s exciting to pass along something good. It looks like University of California scientists have found a way to stop citrus greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing or HLB. This disease has devastated citrus crops and baffled scientists around the globe.
So the need for an HLB cure is a global problem, but it hits especially close to home as California produces 80 percent of all the fresh citrus in the United States.
The new treatment is based upon a naturally occurring molecule found in finger limes. Finger limes are a citrus native to Australia that somehow found a way to naturally beat HLB by producing this antimicrobial peptide.
UCR geneticist Hailing Jin discovered the cure after a five-year search. She explained that unlike antibiotic sprays, the peptide is stable even when used outdoors in high heat. It is easy to manufacture, and safe for use around humans.
The peptide is in the plant, and also inside the fruit of Australian finger limes, which have been consumed for hundreds of years, according to Dr. Jin. She says it is much safer to use this natural plant product on agricultural crops than other synthetic chemicals.
Because the peptide only needs to be reapplied a few times per year, it is cost effective for growers. This peptide can also be developed into a vaccine-like solution to protect young healthy plants from infection, as it is able to induce the plant’s innate immunity to the bacteria.
Dr. Jin says you can see the bacteria drastically reduced, and the leaves appear healthy again only a few months after treatment.
The peptide can be applied by injection or foliage spray, and it moves systemically through plants and remains stable, which makes the effect of the treatment stronger.
That is very good news for our citrus growers, and is reassuring new to the rest of us – that no matter how bad 2020 has been in other ways, good things can and do still happen.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.