Nian Wang, an associate professor of microbiology and cell sciences at UF/IFAS, is working with the gene-editing technique called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats).
CRISPR techniques are being used to generate greening-resistant citrus varieties by modifying the susceptibility genes within the plants.
Wang’s system tricks a plant into sending itself instructions to cut off the gene sequences that program it to permit disease into its cells. With CRISPR, he believes he is nearing the genetic “off” switch and could, theoretically, create a greening-resistant tree.
Wang and his research team have used CRISPR to modify the DNA in grapefruit, creating a new variety that is resistant to citrus canker.
This success led to the Florida Legislature funding Wang $1 million to use CRISPR to develop citrus varieties that are resistant to citrus greening.