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TAMUK professor creates new method to prevent citrus greening disease from spreading

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Hanging small yellow plastic triangles on citrus trees might be the solution to citrus greening disease, Texas A&M University-Kingsville entomologists said.

Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), sap-sucking bugs that cause serious damage to citrus plants, are the vectors of bacterium that causes burned tips, twisted leaves and produces hard, discolored fruit.

Texas’ official fruit, the red grapefruit, is among the trees that are threatened by Huanglongbing (HLB) disease. 

Plants and material can spread the infection to healthy citrus plants even if no psyllids are visible, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Once a citrus plant is infected, there is no cure.

Dr. Mamoudou Sétamou, associate professor at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Citrus Center, said he’s been working on a way to eliminate the problem for the past four years.

My main goal is to help growers control these pests,” Sétamou said. “When a tree is infected with the bacteria, it’s terrible. The production declines dramatically and the fruit is hardly edible.”

Through research at the center, Sétamou developed an “attract-and-kill” device that he said will help control the disease from spreading.

The device consists of a weather-resistant, plastic triangle treated with a contact insecticide. The yellow-green color visually attracts the ACP adults because it mimics the color of young citrus shoots which seem to be preferred egg-laying and feeding sites. 

Adult psyllids are killed on contact by the potent insecticide after they land on the triangles, Sétamou said.

The devices were featured in the Entomology Today blog and highlighted in the research and testing that was led by a collaboration of scientists at the Citrus Center.   

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service and the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s HLB Multi-Agency Coordination Group.

“The Texas A&M University-Kingsville Citrus Center serves as an excellent model of how external research funding support through grants written by scientific faculty can provide meaningful solutions to help guard precious commodities like citrus,” said Dr. Shad Nelson, dean of the College of Agriculture. “(Setamou) is a stand-out researcher and someone that has elevated the Citrus Center in Weslaco, Texas to wider recognition throughout the United States and Internationally.  He is an asset to all those who collaborate with him and the Texas Citrus producers go to him readily for advice on how to manage their crops better though enhanced pest control strategies.”

Sétamou said the devices will have a greater impact on the residential plants.

“In South Texas, we have citrus everywhere. On average, each residence has at least one citrus tree,” he said. “Commercial growers can spray, but in residential areas, we don’t have that luxury. There are so many conflicts with spraying that it doesn’t get done. With these devices, you just hang it on the tree and that's it.”

As of September 2019, the devices were not available for purchase as they undergo a registration process, Sétamou said.

Category: Ag/Env & Wildlife Sci , General Univ

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