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Researchers find chemicals that treat citrus greening in the lab

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A University of Florida research team is cautiously optimistic after finding a possible treatment in the lab for citrus greening, a disease devastating Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry. It is the first step in a years-long process to bring a treatment to market.

Claudio Gonzalez and Graciela Lorca led the research team that examined three biochemical treatments: phloretin, hexestrol and benzbromarone.

The team sprayed greenhouse tree shoots separately with one of the three biochemicals and were successful in stopping the bacteria’s spread, particularly with benzbromarone, which halted the bacteria in 80 percent of the infected trees’ shoots. They expect to begin field experiments with this treatment later this year. Their research was published in late April by the online open access journal PLOS Pathogens.

Gonzalez and Lorca are UF associate professors in the microbiology and cell science department, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The team also works under the auspices of the UF Genetics Institute.

The researchers found that benzbromarone targets a specific protein, known as LdtR, in the citrus greening bacterium. When benzbromarone binds to LdtR, it inactivates the protein, which disrupts a cell wall remodeling process critical for the greening bacterium’s survival inside a citrus tree.

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