An orange tree in Florida, where citrus crops are at risk of various plant-targeting diseases. (Credit: Karen Grigoryan/Shutterstock) A future where chocolate, wine and oranges can be afforded only by the wealthy certainly feels dystopian.But it could be a reality if some of our favorite crops succumb to plant diseases — a reality that is already taking shape in some parts of the world. To tackle the problem, Anne Elizabeth Simon, a virologist at the University of Maryland, is attempting to create what she calls a "vaccine" for crops that could protect our food supply. Like the current approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have long dealt with pathogen spread among plants by quarantining infected flora to spare surrounding ones. And, depending on the type of disease, plants may also receive pesticides or antibiotic sprays. But to offer more reliable protection, Simon is part of a team developing a vaccine-like solution as an efficient and relatively quickly deployable solution to preempt — or possibly cure — plant diseases. This potential fix can’t come fast enough. Currently, the world grapples with increasing perils to vital agricultural sectors. In Europe, a disease called olive quick decline syndrome threatens Italy’s treasured industry. […]


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