There’s good news in the battle against a disease that’s devastated Florida’s signature orange crops. One of the most promising treatments was recently developed in the Australian finger lime. Native to rainforests in Australia, the finger lime is a few centimetres long, grows on small trees and is gaining popularity as an exotic fruit.

Researcher Hailing Jin became interested in the fruit because it is related to oranges, but it isn’t affected by citrus greening. Jin, a molecular geneticist at the University of California Riverside says, “When I heard that there are some wild citrus close relatives that show tolerance or partial resistance, then I (felt) like there must be some genes responsible for it.”

In the 15 years since citrus greening first appeared in Florida, orange production has plummeted from nearly 300 million boxes in 2000 down to about 70 million boxes last year.

UC Riverside has partnered with a biotech company, Invaio Sciences to market the antimicrobial compound. Jin is hoping to start field trials soon in Florida orange groves and eventually get approval from federal regulators. Steven Callaham, the head of Dundee Citrus Growers says what he’s seen so far is encouraging. Rogers says the naturally-occurring compound from the Australian finger lime is one of dozens of peptides currently being investigated. Other promising research involves gene editing—removing the genes from orange trees that make them susceptible to the disease. –