Attendees at the Sept. 26 opening celebration of an $8-million Biosafety Level-3 lab at the University of California-Riverside learn about the work to combat huanglongbing, a devastating citrus disease. ( Tom Burfield )

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — California has a new weapon in the fight against Huanglongbing, the devastating citrus disease also known as HLB.

Citrus industry leaders, government representatives, researchers and officials from the University of California-Riverside, gathered Sept. 26 for the grand opening of a Biosafety Level-3 Lab about two miles from campus.

A staff of about 15 will work to find a cure for the citrus plant disease that already has destroyed about 70% of Florida’s citrus crop and has been detected in several locations in California.

Although HLB has been found in more than 1,500 backyard trees in three Southern California counties, it has not yet been detected in the commercial citrus growing regions to the north.

The industry hopes to keep it that way.

The $8-million, 2,700-square-foot lab is the result of a partnership between the state’s citrus growers and the university.

Joel Nelsen, strategic adviser and former president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said citrus is a $3 billion-plus industry in California.

He praised the state’s growers, who came up with the funds in just 90 days to build the lab.

“The industry didn’t hesitate,” he said. “Several thousand growers came together and allowed money to be deducted from their revenue pools.”

Casey Creamer, president and CEO of California Citrus Mutual, said the opening of the lab “truly is a monumental moment.”

“It’s a testament to what can be done when partnerships are forged,” he said.
Dan Dreyer, outgoing chairman of the Citrus Research Board, stressed the vital role the secure lab will play in finding a solution for HLB.

Until now, he said, researchers were not able to work with live HLB bacteria at UC-Riverside.

They had to travel to facilities in Florida, where the disease already was detected, or employ Florida researchers to do their work and report back.

“That doesn’t appear to be too efficient,” he said.

“This wonderful facility will hopefully aid in efficiency and hopefully lead toward a rapid solution to this devastating disease.”

Collaboration with the citrus industry is nothing new for UC-Riverside.

The university is home of the Citrus Variety Collection, the Citrus Clonal Protection Program and the Citrus Experiment Station, founded in 1907.

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