Though small, the Asian citrus psyllid carries a highly contagious bacterium that now threatens Florida’s citrus industry.
UF workers must remove close to 150 citrus trees on campus within the next two weeks due to a highly contagious bacterium that causes citrus greening.
UF is one of the latest places to be hit by citrus greening in Florida. The disease has already cost Florida’s economy more than $3.6 billion and 6,600 jobs, according to a 2012 study by researchers from the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Eric Triplett, chairperson of the UF Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, said all but two or three of the trees will be removed. The saved ones will be kept for researching ways to battle citrus greening.
Huanglongbing threatens the citrus trees being studied by UF’s Horticultural Sciences Department.
“I think that they decided the removal would stave off the destruction of horticultural plants,” Triplett said.
The disease was discovered on campus during the spring of 2012 when UF students Jennie Fagen and Connor McCullough needed data for research on a disease called huanglongbing.
Fagen and McCullough looked no further than the trees on campus. They tested six trees – three of them tested positive for the disease. They reported it to the department of microbiology then, but no immediate action was taken.
This past Wednesday, a committee including members from the UF Physical Plant, UF Horticultural Sciences Department, UF Department of Microbiology & Cell Science, and UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences met to decide what action should be taken.
They came up with two options – either use of a monthly antibiotic spray or remove and dispose of the infected trees.
On Friday, Donna Bloomfield, the supervisor of grounds and operations at UF, said that the spray was too expensive, so the committee decided to start an emergency removal of the affected citrus trees on campus.
WCA Waste Corporation (WCA) will be in charge of disposing the removed citrus trees to prevent spreading the disease.
UF grounds workers will be working hard over the next two weeks to remove close to 150 citrus trees. Until Wednesday, the project was to last until January 1, 2014.
Some of the citrus trees being removed are very young. Nevertheless, every citrus tree on campus must be removed.
Citrus greening causes leaves to turn yellow, stunted growth, and the affected tree’s fruits to go bad. Eventually, the tree will die.
Kevin Rechcigl, a UF senior studying microbiology, takes DNA samples from affected citrus trees for study. The disease was discovered on campus during the spring of 2012. Since then, the research team has grown to battle the disease.
Two or three trees will be saved for further research after debugging in a greenhouse. There, the disease will be studied without the risk of spreading.
Asian Citrus Psyllid lab samples are kept in a secure lab container for breeding. There are infected and non-infected samples.
This petri dish contains live Asian citrus psyllids.
Lab samples are kept in sealed enclosures to breed both infected and non-infected Asian citrus psyllids.
In the lab, researchers study the effects of the bacterium huanglongbing on citrus plants.