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The Orange Issue

Citrus greening, caused by Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus has been making an assault on citrus plants, leading them to be stunted and ruining orange and other economically important crops. As Amy Harmon reports in the New York Times, Florida growers are turning to biotech tools to try to save the orange.

“People are either going to drink transgenic orange juice or they’re going to drink apple juice,” a University of Florida scientist told Ricke Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, according to Harmon.

Kress and other growers initially searched for a tree that was naturally immune to the disease, but they were unable to find one. Instead, they are examining how inserting genes from other species might help the orange survive. In particular, Harmon reports, they have testing genes from vegetables, a bacteriophage, and pig, as well a fully synthetic gene. So far, a spinach gene appears to be the most promising.

However, Kress and other citrus growers are concerned about how the public would view such modified oranges. "If we don’t have consumer confidence, it doesn’t matter what we come up with," Kress told the California Citrus Growers meeting.