Citrus greening prevents citrus fruit from fully ripening.
Citrus greening prevents citrus fruit from fully ripening.

A University of Florida research group may have taken the first step to finding a treatment for citrus greening.

Claudio Gonzales and Graciela Lorca, both associate professors of microbiology and cell science, led the group that examined three treatments: phloretin, hexestrol and benzbromarone, according to a news release.

In greenhouse trials, they sprayed tree shots separately with one of the three chemicals and were successful in stopping the bacteria's spread. Benzbromarone, which is used to treat gout in humans, worked particularly well, stopping the bacteria in 80 percent of infected trees' shoots.

Benzabromarone targets a specific protein, LdtR, in Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, the organism responsible for citrus greening.

The research was published in the April 24 issue of the online journal, PLOS Pathogens.

Although harmless to humans, citrus greening can weaken and even kill citrus trees. It is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. Once trees are infected, there is no known cure.

In Florida, the disease has caused more than $3.6 billion in citrus industry losses.

Growers have tried different management techniques, such as improved nutritional programs, with some success. But they admit they are only stop-gap measures until a more permanent solution is found.

“Every grower I know is just hanging by their fingernails, hoping and praying for a new discovery for treatment,” Ellis Hunt Jr., a Lake Wales, Fla., citrus grower, said in the release.