A form of laser surgery used to mend human hearts also shows promise for Florida's iconic orange and the desperate antibacterial fight against fatal citrus greening, a major grower said this week.
The technology, “laser ablation,” improves the delivery of chemicals that kill Huanglongbing, the Chinese name of the bacteria that sickens and eventually kills citrus trees, said Tom Jerkins, president of Premier Citrus.
But the solution, scientists say, for saving Florida’s signature agricultural industry is still the genetic creation of a more tolerant tree.
“I think this gets us up to the time when we get reliable genetic improvements,” Jerkins told the Lakeland Ledger on Monday. “This keeps the industry stable and maintains the infrastructure until we do.”
Florida citrus growers averaged 226.3 million boxes of oranges in the five seasons before the 2004-05 season, when greening was discovered. Orange production shrank to roughly 69 million boxes in 2016-17 and is expected to harvest only 45 million boxes this season, partly because of Hurricane Irma.
Premier began using laser ablation to deliver antibacterial chemicals against greening in August. The procedure has been used in surgical medicine since the 1980s.
“We’re in a race, and we’ve got to find some short-term tools” against greening, said Harold Browning, head of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation in Lake Alfred for the past seven years. “The fuse has been lit, and we’re near the end of the fuse.”
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