Citrus greening disease is threatening to collapse the American citrus industry: a cold glass of orange juice could become a luxury commodity. The citrus industry is pouring millions of dollars each year into trying to find a cure for the disease, which causes citrus trees to produce small, bitter fruits with damaged seeds.
Since 2005, citrus greening has laid siege to citrus is Florda. A little bug just a tenth of an inch long, the Asian citrus psyllid, carries the disease, and these critters have been spreading across the country.
To help curb the disease, parasitic wasps from Pakistan are being researched. As part of their life cycle, the wasps, which are even smaller than the Asian citrus psyllids, lay their eggs on the psyllids' bellies. Parasites are, in general, highly specific, and the wasp in question, Tamarixia radiate, only goes after Asian citrus psyllids, not other native psyllids. The researchers were careful to look out for possible ecological side effects before they started releasing the wasps a few years ago. These sorts of safeguards are incredibly important.
Assuming an imported predator or pathogen takes and there's no negative consequences on the rest of the ecosystem, biological control is extremely efficient, far cheaper and safer than constantly relying on pesticides. When it works, biocontrol is great.
The field of biological control, using one species to keep another in check, is a growing one. Cornell University's Anthony Shelton's biocontrol website lists dozens of wasps, flies, bacteria, fungi, beetles, and other bugs that have been approved for use to control the populations of other species.
Another approach to control of the greening disease that is being considered is genetically modified oranges to resist the Asian citrus psyllids.
A recent report in Reuters explains that the Huanglongbing (HLB) bacteria, or "yellow dragon disease", is ravaging orange groves throughout Florida. The disease was first identified in China more than 100 years ago, and it has now somehow spread to the U.S. where some experts say it could wipe out the majority or entirety of Florida's orange groves within seven or eight years.
But instead of trying to address the root causes of the issue -- causes that opponents of GMOs say include overuse of pesticides and nutrient-depleted soil -- some government agencies are proposing that biotechnology companies be granted their wish to genetically-modify the trees to artificially resist the Asian pest.
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