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US: Genetic engineering to save Florida orange crop

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The US National Research Council has said that genetic engineering is the best hope of beating a deadly disease that threatens Florida's citrus groves.

Citrus greening disease cut orange juice production in Florida by 7% in 2008 and the losses "will likely increase", said the report, published this week.

Florida is the world's second largest supplier of orange juice.

Growers first found citrus greening disease in 2005. It is caused by an insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, and can spread rapidly throughout an orchard once the first symptoms have appeared.

The Research Council said: "The most powerful long-term management tool likely will be the cultivation of citrus trees resistant to the bacteria that cause citrus greening and to the Asian citrus psyllid."

It added: "Genetic engineering holds the greatest hope for generating trees with these traits."
 
The Council warned: "As the severity of the disease increases, citrus yield drops and could make the orchard's production uneconomical in seven to ten years after planting."

Trees infected with the disease have yellow shoots; blotchy leaf color; reduced amount of fruit; and fruits that are abnormally small, lopsided, or "off" in flavor. The first symptoms generally appear six months after infection.

The report was sponsored by the Florida Department of Citrus.

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