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Should Citrus Trees be Genetically Engineered to Save Florida’s Oranges?

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Courtesy of USDA

Courtesy of USDA

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowOranges

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Do Now

As Florida’s orange production diminishes due to citrus greening disease, do you think genetic modification of citrus trees is a good step towards a solution? Why or why not?

Introduction

Florida is a state that prides itself on its oranges, producing more than 80% of our country’s orange juice. However, that status has been under serious threat. Since 2005, nearly half of the orange trees in Florida have become infected with a strain of bacteria from China that causes their roots to deform, and fruit to fall prematurely and ripen unevenly, eventually ending in the trees’ death. The disease, which has already cost Florida growers more than $4.5 billion, has been labeled citrus greening. The rapid spreading rate of the bacteria is due to psyllids, a jumping plant lice. Psyllids feed on the leaves of the infected trees and carry the deadly bacteria to healthy trees as they look for food. There is no cure for the disease.

Since the disease was discovered, many attempts have been made to save the oranges, including chopping down large portions of infected trees, experimenting with massive amounts of pesticides and even seeking out trees with a natural immunity to the bacteria, but these are not long-term solutions for farmers. With pressure mounting, researchers, in collaboration with the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have announced that they are exploring the option of planting genetically modified trees that are resistant to the bacteria.

This announcement has sparked a heated debate over the fate of the Florida orange. Critics of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) fear that this may allow biotech companies to take control over the production of Florida oranges while others fear that there may be unknown, long-term, health risks that have yet to be proven. On the other hand, proponents of genetically modified crops state that GMOs are the future of sustainable agriculture.

Resource

NPR radio segment Time Is Running Out To Save Florida’s Oranges
Scientists and growers are looking for ways to fight citrus greening, a disease that has devastated Florida’s citrus crops.


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowOranges

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

U.S. Department of Agriculture website Save Our Citrus
Learn more about citrus greening disease, view a map of affected areas in the U.S, and find out how to spot trees infected with the disease.

The New York Times article A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA
Citrus growers are looking towards genetically engineered trees in order to combat citrus greening, however, there is concern that the public may not be accepting of this kind of change.

KQED QUEST video Next Meal: Engineering Food
Discover how genetically engineered crops are made, their pros and cons, and what the future holds for research and regulations such as labeling.


KQED Do Now Science is a monthly activity in collaboration with California Academy of Sciences. The Science Do Now is posted every second Tuesday of the month.


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Category: Do Now, Do Now: Science

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About the Author ()

The California Academy of Sciences is a leading scientific and cultural institution based in San Francisco. It is home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and research and education programs, which engage people of all ages and backgrounds on two of the most important topics of our time: life and its sustainability. Founded in 1853, the Academy’s mission is to explore, explain and sustain life. Visit www.calacademy.org for more information.
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  • ChaseH19

    I think not allowing Florida Oranges to be genetically modified would be a major mistake both economically and organically. Oranges are such an important part of Floridas economy and are relied on throughout the USA. Genetically engineering oranges to prevent this disease from destroying the future of this delicious fruit is very important. While there may be health risks from this fruit, they would outweigh the complete loss of the oranges. In all, l think if you dont like the GMO’s, don’t eat them.

  • RobinHood82

    I think planting genetically modified oranges is the correct step here, especially seeing as oranges as such a major part of Florida’s economy. Even with possible side effects down the road, it is probably better than using a large amount of pesticides.

  • Nathan Cao

    Personally, I believe that the orange industry in Florida is among the most widespread in America. Every time you go to a grocery store, you look in a juice isle and you see Florida’s Orange juice. Sure, there could be some side effects to the genetically modified plants. However, the benefits of having orange juice outweigh those side effects, in my opinion.

  • Alberto Garcia

    I believe that planting genetically modified oranges is probably the best solution.

  • Miranda Burcham

    I believe that genetic modification is a step towards a solution to greening because not only can it provide a permanent prevention to our problem but the plant itself can be improved to make better fruit or withstand better climate and so on. Plus,I don’t think we have a whole lot of other choices.

  • Joseph Manguera

    I think genetic modification to the orange trees is a great step to a solution. We could find a way to make the trees immune to the disease if we keep on trying, and maybe solve this problem for good. It’s better than letting the trees die from the disease and continue to shorten our orange supply.

  • FresnoRaisin97

    I never have liked the idea of the genetic modification of my food, but I think that Florida right now does not really have any other option. Economically, planting GM trees would be the right move. I know that it decreases the integrity of the fruit and what not, but without the GM trees it doesn’t sound like there is much hope for any fruit at all. The article seemed to state pretty clearly that there is no known cure for this “citrus greening” disease. If there are people fighting against GM trees, how exactly do they expect to keep oranges coming out of Florida?

    • snowdrifter144

      uh huh

  • Christian L. and Cory A.

    I believe we shouldn’t genetically modify our food unless it has been tested and approved that there would be no significant difference in the plants. Other than that I wouldn’t want bugs in my food or unessacary pesticides to be in them while they were growing.

    • snowdrifter144

      righto

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  • Some Random Kid

    what are we doing with our lives

    • Forrestofthetrees420

      word…

      • snowdrifter144

        yup

        • snowdrifter144

          whoah

          • snowdrifter144

            I just figured out I can reply to myself.

          • snowdrifter144

            Over,

          • snowdrifter144

            and over

          • snowdrifter144

            and over.

          • snowdrifter144

            lolzzzzzz

    • snowdrifter144

      happily wasting them

  • Celeste McBride

    I think that genetically modifying Florida’s oranges would be a quick fix to a long term problem that will just make issues worse later on. As long as we only plant one kind of orange our orange crop will always be vulnerable to disease like what happened with the potato famine in Ireland.

    • snowdrifter144

      There’s no evidence that the GMO wouldn’t be genetically passed down the line. But the part about Ireland is spot on!

  • AnthonyVogliano

    Modifying plants is an excellent solution to citrus greening, and with the current rate of science may not be too far away. The problem may soon arise after this solution though, that the new oranges cannot deal with a different bacteria which the originals were immune to. Also, so long as new bacteria continue to crop up and evolve, we will produce fruit that is dependent on human intervention for survival, or we may simply over modify the trees to the point that they are unrecognizable when compared to natural counterparts.

  • abcd

    GMOs will lead to more stability, while not using GMOs will lead to instability. So, I believe Florida should use GMOs to help boost their economy and hopefully lead to stability now and in the future.

    http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/

  • Brittney Darnell

    No. I feel that if you try to genetically try to fix the problem with Florida’s oranges it would cause more harm to people’s health rather than cure the problem.

    • snowdrifter144

      maybe

  • Devon Schildge

    If they can be saved they should be. Florida is the second-largest producer of orange juice in the world, behind Brazil. Its $9 billion citrus industry contributes 76,000 jobs to the state. If you can save not losing more money and jobs they should definitely do it. There is not concrete evidence that GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) have an affect on human health. Most of the food we consume on a daily basic consist of GMOs and we don’t even know it. There are risks to having these GMOs of course but it is worth the risk to save the crop and save the industry.

    http://www.oprah.com/health/Genetically-Modified-Foods-Affect-Health-and-Body

    • Richard Garza

      You mean “not yet.” Cancer in rats, and other test animals; but not us… yet?
      The USA has more “cancers” then any other nation. The USA has more Illnesses in “general”… than any other nation. Hmmmmm.
      If your to scared to care… I sure the fuck will buddy.

      • snowdrifter144

        bullshit, there’s no linkage from gmo’s to general illness.

    • snowdrifter144

      you just nailed that, NICE!

  • Hunter Robertson

    No, i think that the modifications could lead to more detrimental effects opposed to positive.

    • snowdrifter144

      it would help me understand why you say this if you put some background to support you.

  • rodzzz

    a little bit of science education would go a long way here, hope we don’t jeopardize tons of jobs and the food supply because of some internet-fueled paranoia.

  • snowdrifter144

    rodzzz is right, instead of all the people who are scared of technology saying
    “NO GMO’s!” we need informed people asking the pros cons and alternatives
    is that really too much to ask?