Florida’s famous orange groves are dying out at an alarming rate due to a tree killing bacteria causing a disease known as Citrus Greening. Citrus production in the state in the last 12-15 years has decreased by 75-80 percent. As Dr. Fred Gmitter, University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center, said, citrus greening is, for the citrus industry, the worst possible nightmare imaginable.

Citrus greening is caused by bacteria that live within the plant and is moved by an insect that feeds on the plant. Since it is inside the plant, not on it, there is no way to spray any chemicals to kill off the bacteria and fight the disease.

In Florida, citrus production has supported nearly 80,000 jobs. The rapid spread of citrus greening has forced many growers, processing plants, packing houses and other businesses to close.

Gmitter and his team are working to improve orange trees, making them more resistant to the disease. They’ve developed some rootstocks that make the trees more tolerant using genome editing and CRISPR.

“Life evolves through mutations,” says Gmitter.

CRISPR allows researchers to make very minor changes to the DNA code, working within the plant’s own genome, to make a mutation that could occur naturally given enough time. This technology could be a part of the solution to solving the challenges facing agriculture.

Learn more about it in the first video in a new series from the American Seed Trade Association and CropLife International.

This issue and the above video are featured in ASTA and BIO’s proposal for 2019 SXSW. You can read more about the proposal (and how to vote for it) on BIO’s blog.