Save Our Citrus!

Photo by briweldon. Some rights reserved.

Photo by briweldon. Some rights reserved.

As a person who drinks at least one tall glass of orange or grapefruit juice every morning, this is VERY germane to my interests: citrus trees across America are in trouble, due to a bacterial virus known as Huanglongbing, Yellow Dragon disease, or citrus greening. Citrus greening, thought to have originated in China in the early 20th century, is a bacteria that has already done arboreal damage across the globe. Since August 2005, the Brazilian strand of the virus (one of three well-known strands) has been appearing in Florida, America’s citrus capital. The virus is carried primarily by two types of small plant lice, that carry the disease from tree to tree, causing leaves to wither or rot and yielding very little, if any, healthy fruit.

Luckily, as it so often does, science has stepped in. In a new USDA press release, details are rolled out on a new plan to combat citrus greening not by saving the trees exactly, but by freezing them. Yes, like Encino Man and Austin Powers before them, select citrus trees (of all genealogies and varieties) will have their small buds (where genetic material is stored) cryogenically frozen in what the USDA is calling a “genebank,” in case the virus (or natural disasters, fires, or any other insane, tree-eating disease: we’ve heard of others) wipes out our citrus population entirely. The press release refers to the bank as the “Fort Knox” of plant and animal germplasm, which is both reassuring and highly amusing. Read more about their storage techniques here, and for the sake of our 3.4 billion dollar citrus industry (and of my morning routine), let’s hope this works!

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