As citrus greening disease threatens Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry, University of Florida Genetic Institute members Claudio Gonzalez and Graciela Lorca may have identified the biochemical treatment growers are desperate to find.
Gonzalez and Lorca led a research team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that identified three biochemicals as promising treatments for citrus greening: phloretin, hexestrol and particularly benzbromarone. Benzbromarone is typically used to treat gout in humans, but during test sprays of the chemical on citrus plants, it halted the bacteria in 80 percent of infected trees’ shoots.
Researchers found benzbromarone inactivates a specific protein, LdtR, in the citrus greening bacterium, disrupting a cell wall remodeling process critical for the bacterium’s survival in a tree.
The research team’s findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens in late April.
Citrus greening is caused by the Asian citrus psyllid bug, which eats leaf sap, leaving the bacteria behind. The bacteria spread through a tree’s living tissue to all parts of the plant.
While researchers are optimistic with findings so far, the process to achieve federal approval for commercial use could take between five and seven years. The next step is taking benzbromarone out of the lab and into groves, to test it on mature trees.