Can CRISPR Feed the World?

Biologists have a new tool to save oranges and other crops — if the public can stomach it.


Larry Black kneels in the sandy soil beside a bushy orange tree flush with ripening fruit, his brow glistening in the hot Florida sun. He pinches a sprig of young leaves and pulls it in at eye level. “You see him?” Black says. “He’s tiny.” A grayish speck flutters off. It’s the Asian citrus psyllid — smaller than a grain of rice, but big enough to possibly destroy Florida’s citrus industry.

The tree’s yellow-blotched leaves betray a symptom citrus growers have come to expect. It’s sick. And so is nearly every mature citrus tree in the state.

Black’s family has raised oranges here since the 1850s. For five generations, they’ve faced hurricanes, frost and pests. But over the past decade or so, they’ve seen this tiny bug become their worst calamity, decimating the state’s iconic orange trees by ferrying a disease called citrus greening, or Huanglongbing (HLB) — the yellow dragon disease.

“Pre-HLB, a grower planted a grove of trees and expected them to live for a generation,” says Black, who runs Peace River Packing Co. in Fort Meade. “And that’s just not a reality anymore.”


The full text of this article is available to Discover Magazine subscribers only.

Subscribe and get 10 issues packed with:
  • The latest news, theories and developments in the world of science
  • Compelling stories and breakthroughs in health, medicine and the mind
  • Environmental issues and their relevance to daily life
  • Cutting-edge technology and its impact on our future
Already a subscriber? Register now!
Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on, please log in.