Science & Wellness

Students race against Irma to protect citrus experiment

Some University of Florida students headed right into the thick of the projected path of Hurricane Irma to collect citrus tree samples as part of an ongoing experiment on citrus greening.

As Hurricane Irma churns closer to Florida, the students are collecting samples from citrus trees to see if two chemicals they’re testing will help control greening, the disease that’s devastating the state’s multimillion dollar-a-year citrus industry.

On Wednesday, the students took samples from those trees before Irma makes landfall, and Thursday, they hit the road at 6 a.m. to do the same, said Claudio Gonzalez, a UF/IFAS associate professor of microbiology and cell science.

During the last two years, Gonzalez, has worked with his students to identify and test treatments that may prove promising against citrus greening. They are currently performing large-scale field trials in South Florida with two of the treatments.

The treated plants are in Lorida — which is in Highlands County — and in Fort Pierce, said Gonzalez.

“I’m super proud of the students working on this project,” Gonzalez said. “Our work in the field is not simple. During a round of treatment last week — trees need to be sprayed after sunset — one of them was bitten by a rattlesnake in the leg. Luckily, we provided them with the correct equipment, and the snake proof boots he was wearing saved him from catastrophe.”

“In spite of the recent snake incident, they are again in the field today collecting tissue samples,” he said. “We are fighting very hard from our side; together with the Florida growers we will do everything possible to save our citrus industry.”

Brad Buck Author
September 9, 2017