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Burger and Beer
Science on Tap
A monthly lecture series at UMD that explores the latest discoveries in science and technology in a relaxed atmosphere with food and drink

Say Goodbye to Citrus?

A Scientist’s Quest to Save the Worldwide Citrus Industry from a Devastating, Incurable Disease

Anne Simon
Professor, UMD Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics

Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Lecture begins at 6:30 p.m.

Milkboy Art House

MilkBoy ArtHouse
7416 Baltimore Ave.
College Park, MD 20740

Space is limited. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. Happy hour specials will be available until 7 p.m.

Questions? Contact Abby Robinson
at or 301-405-5845.

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A relentless killer is stalking the grapefruit you eat for breakfast, the tangerine dressing on your salad, even the lime slices you plop in your gin and tonic. Citrus greening disease (as well as its Chinese name, Huanglongbing) has been a disaster for the citrus industry in Florida, where it has wiped out millions of trees and caused production to plummet by more than half since it arrived from Asia and was noticed in 2005. With no way to stop it from killing every tree it infects, the disease threatens other areas as well, such as California's vast growing areas—now the natio's most productive because of Florida's decline. The disease is already pushing up fruit prices, which could skyrocket if California is hit hard. Citrus greening is spread by tiny insects called psyllids, which inject disease-causing bacteria through the leaves into a tree's vascular system, or phloem. This provokes a seemingly disproportionate immune response from the tree, clogging up the phloem to stop the bacteria. First, leaves become discolored, followed by misshapen, bitter fruit. The infected trees inevitably die after a few years.

The speaker will discuss her work on a solution to this challenge. Her approach is to infect trees with a viruslike ribonucleic acid, or RNA, assembly that creates few or no symptoms, but which can hopefully be engineered to carry a virtual bag of weapons against citrus greening disease: one would fight the psyllids landing on leaves, another would help the tree reverse the damage, and most importantly, one would slay the bacteria. The speaker's starting a company with the hope that one day the company could inoculate each tree—nearly 2 billion could use it—with the cure for several dollars each.

Abstract text adapted from an article published in Maryland Today.

This event is a partnership between the UMD College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences and The Clarice and MilkBoy ArtHouse, a local crossroads for dynamic entertainment, social gathering and creative dining in downtown College Park, Maryland. This event is also sponsored by the UMD Science Alumni Network.

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