Device could help stop citrus greening

United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Services researchers have created a small device which they said could help stop the spread of citrus greening, a devastating disease affecting citrus growers across Central Florida.

USDA Research Entomologist, Richard Mankin, has led the charge with his colleagues at the University of Florida to fight the tiny bug, the Asian Citrus Psyllid, for years.  Mankin explained, “We’re actually proud of the project. It combines a lot of different scientific disciplines, and has demonstrated a lot of success so far."

Success against the Asian Phyllid that invaded the U.S. in the early 2000s he said. It carries the bacteria that causes citrus greening.  That’s a disease the USDA considers one of the most serious citrus diseases on Earth, eventually killing the tree.  Mankin said, “This is the worst problem so far that has faced the Florida citrus industry, ever.”

They’ve had lab tests and some small field work. But this is how the device works. It hijacks the mating signals of the Psyllid, makes vibrations in the tree and fools the male Psyllid, luring it to a waiting trap.  “If the insects aren’t carrying the bacteria from tree to tree, the bacterium can’t do it by itself,” Mankin added. 

Mankin gave FOX 35 pictures of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stopping by this weekend to see their work. Mankin’s team wants to get the cost down to around $50 and do larger field tests. It’s a step closer, he said, to the long-term goal of fixing the problem.  “Which is to develop trees that are resistant themselves to the bacterium disease,” Mankin explained.

Researchers said they hope to have these devices in the hands of citrus growers in the next few years.