New UC Riverside facility will help battle threat to Calif. citrus industry

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- The tiny Asian citrus psyllid poses a serious threat to California's multibillion-dollar citrus industry.

The insect - smaller than a grain of rice - feeds on citrus tree leaves and spreads the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease, which doesn't harm humans but can kill trees.

Researchers in Southern California have been battling the pest for eight years and are about to open a new front in that war.

Groundbreaking on a high-tech research facility at UC Riverside is scheduled for October. The facility, paid for mostly by the citrus industry, will study new ways to go after the pest and bacteria.

It will have a sophisticated airlock system and air-filtration system and researchers will have to wear special overalls to ensure nothing from inside gets out.

The facility will cost millions of dollars, paid for mostly by the citrus industry, but it is seen as a small price to pay given the size of the threat.

"It's been estimated that the citrus industry may go commercially extinct unless they can get on top of this problem," said Mark Hoddle, a UC Riverside researcher and director of the Center for Invasive Species Research.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.