Popeye was right: Spinach makes things stronger. A Texas researcher is working to fight citrus greening–a dreaded bacterial disease spread by jumping plant lice–by creating a genetically-enhanced line of trees using spinach genes.
Citrus greening, which has caused $3.6 billion in damage to Florida’s citrus industry since arriving on the peninsula in 2005, was recently discovered in California groves. The disease was dubbed Huanglongbing when it was first discovered in China in the early 1900s.
Erik Mirkov, a professor of plant virology at the Texas AgriLife Research Center in Weslaco, is developing ways to combat the pest by inserting two bacteria-fighting proteins found in spinach into orange and grapefruit trees. Spinach proteins have “broad-spectrum resistance against multiple bacteria and fungi,” according to PhysOrg.com.
The first batch of the tweaked trees will be shipped off to a grove in South Florida next month to see if the lab test results can be replicated in a commercial environment, the Associated Press reported.
The pest currently afflicts 43 percent of Florida’s citrus trees, a number that is only expected to grow. “Some of these growers in Florida, they say ‘If you can’t have something for us in five years, if you tell me it’s going to take eight we’re dead,’” Mirkov told the AP.
Maybe the spinach will come from Crystal City, the “spinach capital of the world.”