New germplasm bank aims to improve citrus in Costa Rica

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    The Tropical Agricultural Research and Training (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza), or CATIE, in the canton of Turrialba, Cartago, opened a citrus germplasm bank in order to strengthen this variety of plants against various pests and diseases.

    “Germplasm is any part of a plant (seeds, cuttings or whole plants) that can be stored for a specified period for use in the future,” said William Solano, a researcher with CATIE.

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    This project has 330 trees, corresponding to 66 varieties of citrus fruit brought into the country by the State Phytosanitary Service (Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado) and CATIE.

    CATIE received these varieties from the germplasm bank at the University of California at Riverside (USA), one of the most prestigious germplasm banks in the world. With this supply, citrus growers may provide improved varieties of citrus that are juicier, have greater longevity, produce higher yields, are resistance to viruses.

    In addition, the bank will also be providing buds that certified nurseries can use to produce plants free of pests.

    Disease. Today, the main threat to the citrus industry worldwide is the disease known as “Huanglongbing” (HLB), a disease caused by the bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter. It is the leading cause of an “economic death” of the tree, and infected plants fail to produce fruit suitable for trade. HLB spreads rapidly among all commercial varieties of citrus, but oranges and grapefruit are more susceptible to this disease.

    “The characteristics of the diseased plants are varied. For example, mottled yellow leaves may initially appear in outbreaks. Veins also become corky and in some cases, the shape of the leaves becomes sharp,” said Solano.
    “In addition, the fruits show deformation and an abnormal maturation with a premature fall. Finally, the plant will die,” said the scientist.

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