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USDA to Pump $25M into Genetics, Genomics Studies Targeting Citrus Pest

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The US Department of Agriculture will award $25 million to fund genetics and genomics research projects that seek to improve citrus plants and to address the insect-borne crop disease huanglongbing (HLB), commonly called citrus greening disease.

The $25 million will support the Citrus Disease Research and Education Program (CDRE), and was provided to USDA under the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the Farm Bill), USDA said late last week.

The Farm Bill appropriated $400 million in guaranteed money for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) program, and $125 million of that was tabbed to fund research efforts to address HLB over five years. s

The SCRI program operates under USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture program, and was created to fuel genetics, genomics, and similar research approaches seeking to improve crop characteristics and combat pests and diseases.

HLB is considered the most devastating global citrus disease, USDA said in a request for applications. Transmitted via the Asian citrus psyllid insect (the pathogen is suspected to be a bacterium), the disease was first discovered in the continental US in 2005, in Florida, and has since moved into Texas and "has reached epidemic proportions," USDA said.

The insect also has been found in Arizona and California, although HLB has not been discovered yet in those states.

"The citrus industry and the thousands of jobs it supports are depending on groundbreaking research to neutralize this threat," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Because the states vary widely in HLB progression, there are regional and national priorities for the CDRE program, USDA said.

The research priorities include projects that focus on the pathogen and on the insect, as well as research into new orchard production systems and studies related to non-agricultural citrus trees. These may include the development of new methods and systems to detect the pathogen in trees before disease symptoms begin; development of non-transgenic RNAi technologies that will either kill the insect or prevent it from being able to transmit the pathogen; tools to detect the presence of the Asian citrus psyllid; or the discovery and development of systems to prevent the Asian citrus psyllid from developing resistance to control strategies, among others.

As GenomeWeb Daily News report Last week, an international team compared and analyzed the genomes of 10 citrus varieties, research the partners hope will enable scientists to develop new breeding strategies and methods for protecting it from disease and other stressors.

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