NY Times on Saving the Orange

The orange groves in Florida are in trouble. A disease called Citrus Greening is destroying the fruit, the trees, and the future of the industry in the state. Scientists are turning to genetic engineering to create a solution to this problem, but will it work, and will people accept it? Amy Harmon excellently tells the story at the New York Times.

A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA

Frank-green-orange

Frank wants to save the oranges

CLEWISTON, Fla. — The call Ricke Kress and every other citrus grower in Florida dreaded came while he was driving.

“It’s here” was all his grove manager needed to say to force him over to the side of the road.

The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. Mr. Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Natural, sat in silence for several long moments.

“O.K.,” he said finally on that fall day in 2005, “let’s make a plan.”

Fill a glass full of orange juice, and give it a good read, and let us know what you think.

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Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He currently works as a Post Doctoral Research Associate for the USDA in Madison, WI. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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11 comments to NY Times on Saving the Orange

  • Has a study been done on the specific type of honeybees pollinating the citrus trees in Florida in the past several years since CCS (Colony Collapse Syndrome) occurred? I read the submitted results regarding pesticide resistance with the bees, but have a theory about the original
    “pre CCS” pollinators being left out of the natural resistance equation with regard to fighting the invading bacteria.

  • This is an excellent article and an all-too-rare example of real journalism on a controversial issue. The possibility that the Florida orange juice industry could disappear is extremely real. Unfortunately the reality that they may never be able to utilize a biotech solution is also extremely real. I think Amy Harmon captures the human side of that very well.

  • Expansive Prairie

    I think the game is still young. This is a 20 yard gain for GMO tech, not a touchdown. It will be at least a handful of years before the orange trees in the test plot are ready.

    Huanglongbing, or it’s vector may be vanquished by means not apparent today. <a href="http://www.ars.usda.gov/citrusgreening/""USDA ARS=" and others have been aware of the introduction of the species for some time. <a href=http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426105641.htm""Periwinkle" plants, have served as a replacement for citrus in testing, enabling some possible courses of action that were awaiting evaluation for field trial in 2010.

  • Ash Blackwell

    Great article, it really goes in depth into the reasons why people are turning to transgenic crops and the process of weighing costs benefits and concerns. Really good journalism.

  • MikeB

    I love this article. It makes me rue all over again that I never entered science journalism.

  • Sadly, NPR’s news quiz show, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, found a way to way to spin this in the creepiest possible way. In their telling, the project consists of inserting a pig gene into an orange plant, resulting in non-Kosher orange juice.

  • theLaplaceDemon

    c rader – “Sadly, NPR’s news quiz show, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, found a way to way to spin this in the creepiest possible way. In their telling, the project consists of inserting a pig gene into an orange plant, resulting in non-Kosher orange juice.”

    They know that pigs share a number of genes with other non-pig (and even non-animal) things, right?

  • Keith Hayes

    I think public acceptance of GM food is going to come down to this type of story: If the public won’t allow GM foods to be grown or sold, then entire food producing industries will disappear like the Florida orange growers are trying to avoid. I think this type of story needs to be told more so the public will understand the stakes. The GMO papaya would make another interesting story to tell.

    • Keith,
      Yes, there could be several stories like this. Commercial bananas in the Americas are at risk from a soil pathogen that could get here any time. Specialty coffee in the mountains of Central and South America is getting pounded by a rust pathogen. Cacao production is threatened by many pests (=chocolate could get very expensive). But I think it will be sad if we only get acceptance from dire scenarios. I’d like to think that a low acrylamide potato or an apple that does not brown after cutting should be available, branded as “improved by biotechnology” for those of us who want it. I think I should be able to select sweet corn that required the grower to spend a lot less time spraying. These sort of specialty crops can be feasibly “labeled” by which I mean branded a coming from biotech. The feasibility of that is completely different from ingredients that come from commodity crops that get blended from multiple farms in giant elevators and moved around in 100car trains.

      • Keith Hayes

        “But I think it will be sad if we only get acceptance from dire scenarios.”

        I think it would be sad also, but it reframes the debate from “big ag is forcing us to eat this while in collusion with the gov’t” to “Some crops may end up extinct if we don’t use GM as a tool” I think this would resonate more with people.

        The anti-GMO proponents have gotten a lot of traction with fear mongering. What if we told the public that crops like Oranges and Coffee will be wiped out if we don’t do something (fear mongering with a pro GMO spin)? The dramatic story telling in the NY Times illustrates this perfectly I think.

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