For nearly a decade, the citrus industry has been crippled by a deadly and incurable disease known as citrus greening. The bacteria — also called Huanglongbing or “yellow dragon disease” — causes fruit to remain green and useless for consumption or sale. The only way that growers can manage the disease is by removing an infected tree before it wipes out the whole grove. According to the Gainsville Sun, the blight has spread to all 32 counties in Florida, affecting 75 percent of the state’s citrus crop. Another startling stat: Since 2006, citrus greening has reportedly cost the Sunshine State 8,000 jobs and $4.5 billion in crop damage.
But government officials and scientists are fighting back. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently received $20 million to take on the disease. And the Gainsville Sun reports that University of Florida scientists have cracked the DNA of the nasty bacterium, Candidatus liberibacter asiaticus, that’s believed to be the culprit behind citrus greening. “We are able to look at the genome and tell what it has no defenses against,” plant pathologist Dean Gabriel told the publication.
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One reason this bug has been stumping hundreds of scientists for years (even with $80 million in prior funding) is that the bacteria won’t grow in a petri dish, making it difficult to test in labs. It’s also super elusive — as Gabriel said, “We have no idea where it is in an infected tree.” However, he remains optimistic, adding that a cure could be five years away. For Florida citrus farmers, the solution can’t come soon enough.