Laser treatment could be answer to citrus greening

Image 1 of 4

A laser could hold the key to stopping an insidious disease killing Florida's orange crops. 

It's called citrus greening. It's a bacteria putting a major squeeze on Florida's $11 billion citrus industry.

But growers hope the long-awaited silver bullet for this disease lies in a new bacteriacide, but a bullet doesn't work without a gun. That's where the laser comes in. 

Researchers said spraying the chemical onto a tree wasn't effective, but using a laser to get the chemical into a tree seems to be a much better method.

The method is working so well, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, (D) Florida came to Lakeland to see the fight against an enemy that has cost the state of Florida billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

"Growers are struggling to stay in business," Sen. Nelson explained.

Citrus greening is a bacteria that causes citrus trees to produce small, greenish, bitter fruit, and ultimately can kille the tree.

Since appearing in Florida 10 years ago, the disease has wiped out more than 130,000 acres of citrus and cost the state $3.6 billion in revenue.

"That is going to kill our citrus industry unless we're successful. We are going to be successful," Sen. Nelson said.

The senator's optimism was bolstered by what he saw Lakeland. A machine developed by University of Florida researchers works in two steps to fight the bacteria.

Step one: It uses a laser to make incisions in the leaf of an infected tree.

Step two: The machine sprays a bacteriacide into the incisions, getting the medicine directly into the tree's "veins", so to speak.

As the senator saw, sick trees treated with this method in November have since sprouted new, healthy growth.

"So, two months ago and you've got this beautiful kind of flush. That's amazing!" Sen. Nelson said.

Researchers say further testing is needed, but they believe the laser treatments are the beginning of a cure.

"We're making headway, and ultimately we're going to have a stable system followed by replanting that will restore this industry," explained Dr. Harold Browning with the  Citrus Research and Development Foundation.