Tangerine fans, brace yourselves for bad news. Citrus fruits are under threat from greening, a deadly bacterial disease spread by insects. But all hope isn’t lost. Researchers at the University of Florida have completed genome sequencing for sweet oranges and Clementine mandarin trees–and that might be enough to stave off their decline.
Greening, a disease spread by the citrus psyyllid insect, was first discovered in 2005 among Florida citrus groves. Since then, the disease has weakened and killed citrus trees in Asia, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Brazil. It’s a crisis that threatens Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry, as well as the world’s supply of citrus fruits.
That’s why researchers at the University of Florida have spent four years and over $3 million to decode the genomes for sweet oranges and Clementine mandarin trees. Now that scientists know the exact chemical building blocks that make up the species, they can figure out why greening kills the fruits–and build more rugged species that withstand the disease.
“The publication of the sweet orange and tangerine genomes will
accelerate the discovery of innovative solutions to a myriad of pest and
disease problems that threaten citrus production,” said Dan Gunter,
chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development
Foundation Inc, in a statement.
Citrus producers will also be able to generate fruit that is better looking, contains more phytonutrients, and has a higher tolerance for salt, bad soil and extreme temperatures–in other words, they will be able to design supercharged oranges.
Sweet oranges and tangerines are only some of the foods that have undergone the genome sequencing treatment in recent months. Researchers at Mars sequenced the cacao genome last September, and the woodland strawberry genome was sequenced this past December.
There is still work to be done before genome sequencing can save all fruits and vegetables from imminent doom, however–a seemingly unstoppable banana blight is currently threatening the world’s supply of the fruit.