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Genealogy: Interesting to Us; Vital to Citrus

June 23, 2014

 

Tracing the primogenitors of today’s citrus trees

Genealogy buffs who were once confined to searching family history books and poring through paper and microfiche archives long ago adopted electronic archives tied to the World Wide Web. More recently, companies have offered to trace individuals’ ethnic origins through DNA. The process, while still controversial, offers still another path to individuals seeking their ethnic and historical roots.

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Dr. Fred Gmitter is the UF researcher who led the international genetic research team seeking the original citrus plants. (Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS)

Genetic background is also important when it comes to plants – specifically, citrus, the most widely cultivated fruit crop in the world. Researchers Dr. Fred Gmitter of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences and the team, which included researchers from the U.S., France, Italy, Spain and Brazil, spent ten years analyzing genome sequences of 10 varieties of citrus. They have traced the origins of the Florida citrus we enjoy today back more than 5 million years to two wild citrus species from Southeast Asia.

The import of that work transcends mere historical interest. It could help to identify varieties of trees that are genetically resistant to citrus greening, or Huanglongbing (HLB), a bacterial infection which is currently devastating the citrus industry in North America.
Researchers hope that broadening the gene pool available to plant breeders will lead to trees that are resistant to HLB.

New varieties offer hope to beleaguered growers, and finding and propagating them is the primary purpose of the Florida Citrus Repository, a new facility which the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services opened recently at LaCrosse. The new facility will allow Division of Plant Industry researchers to expand the Citrus Germplasm Introduction Program, which provides a way to safely introduce healthy new citrus varieties to the state. The repository could produce more than 20 new varieties each year.

While humans will ever be interested in their origins, tracing the backgrounds of citrus will likely to prove key to the industry’s survival.
NOTE: The findings of Dr. Gmitter and the team are published online by the journal Nature Biotechnology. Article from Southeast Farm Press here.

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