LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — Working at the cell level to develop a disease- resistant citrus tree holds great promise and potential for the Florida citrus industry. Nian Wang, professor of microbiology and cell science, is one of the world’s most accomplished researchers working in this area to develop a tree that is resistant to the citrus greening disease. Because of his accomplishments in this specific field, Wang has been appointed the Graves Eminent Scholar Chair in Biotechnology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The endowed chair was established in 1987 in honor of citrus growers Mr. and Mrs. J.R. (Rip) Graves, leaders in Florida’s citrus community, and was previously held by Professor William Dawson until his retirement. Wang is a preeminent leader in citrus biotech research. He has perfected the use of the gene-editing CRISPR technology to edit the citrus genome in a non-transgenic way. This means his technology can support the development of new citrus varieties using a type of gene-based scientific process that is increasingly being used in agricultural research and known to the general public.
Wang and his team have already developed a citrus variety that is considered resistant to citrus canker disease and is making key advancements to developing varieties that are resistant to Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, commonly referred to as citrus greening. Citrus greening is a global citrus disease that is responsible for negatively impacting nearly 100 percent of Florida’s commercial citrus groves and dramatically decreasing annual citrus production and fruit quality.
“This appointment is a worthy recognition for Dr. Wang’s many contributions and accomplishments to progressive citrus plant improvement,” said Michael Rogers, professor and director of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center. “It also complements the university’s renewed commitment of additional resources to support the potential of CRISPR and biotechnology to accelerate discovering solutions to citrus greening.”
Developing an HLB-resistant citrus tree is the top priority of the citrus industry. Additional UF/IFAS strategic investments to support this initiative are infrastructure improvements including more research staff, more laboratory space, and constructing a dedicated greenhouse and screenhouses to support CRISPR research projects.
UF/IFAS will also continue to support traditional plant breeding efforts for citrus and advancing solutions in integrated pest management, nutrition and irrigation, plant pathology, and soil and water sciences and more. Key information critical to growers will continue to be shared through UF/IFAS Extension in person and on-line events, newsletters, on its many websites and at commodity group trade shows.
For more information, please visit citrusresearch.ifas.ufl.edu.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.