Fresh from lab: Chinese, Pakistani researchers' innovative endophyte-mediated approach to citrus greening in China and beyond

By Xiong Weisheng | China Economic Net Jun 2, 2023

KUNMING, May 31 (China Economic Net) - A tiny insect no bigger than a grain of rice is spreading Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening disease, to citrus trees across the globe, with more than 10 million diseased trees destroyed all over China each year and over $1.3 billion in lost revenue to the citrus industry over the last five years in Florida, US, according to researchers.
In a bid to reverse this trend, Shahzad Munir, a Pakistani researcher based in China's Yunnan Agricultural University, is working with a team of Chinese scientists headed by Prof. Dr. He Yueqiu to spearhead innovative research into the biological control of this century-old malaise and has pioneered the use of endophytes to contain the pathogen.
Endophytes are a unique kind of bacteria or fungi that live inside a plant, but unlike the bacteria that cause HLB, they pose no harm to the plant and can be beneficial to plant growth, Munir explained to China Economic Net (CEN) in an interview.
Primarily focusing on utilising endophyte-mediated resistance to combat citrus greening, Munir told CEN reporter that an indigenous endophyte, Bacillus subtilis L1-21, has been isolated from healthy citrus trees, and that in the past six years, the endophyte “has been tested and demonstrated in nearly 164 acres of citrus fields across China with promising results, and has been developed into commercial products on a large scale.”
The Pakistani researcher highlighted that the applicability of these findings is also significant for his home country Pakistan, which is also grappling with HLB. "Unfortunately, limited work has been done in Pakistan for managing this disease on a large scale," the researcher lamented.
The researcher sees the potential for the successful implementation of this endophytic technology in Pakistan. "The endophyte we used in our research could easily be applicable in most citrus-growing regions worldwide. We had plans to transfer our technology to Pakistan, but these were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic."
In recognition of his ground-breaking work, the researcher was recently honoured with The Yunnan Friendship Award, an honourary title that is typically presented to foreigners making huge scholarly and technological contributions to Yunnan. Reflecting on this achievement, he said, "This is a very proud moment for me. However, it's important to remember that all these outstanding contributions were made possible through the dedication of our research group under the supervision of professor He Yueqiu."
Munir’s work exemplifies the crucial role of international cooperation in addressing global agricultural issues. His innovative approach may not only help reclaim citrus groves in China and Pakistan but could potentially benefit citrus farmers worldwide.

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