Microtomography scans showing the inner workings of an invasive insect could help scientists attack the insect and prevent it decimating the citrus fruit industry. Jim Drury reports.
These scans show the Asian citrus psyllid in unprecedented detail. They're the work of world-renowned micro scanner Javier Alba-Tercedor. He uses micro-computed tomography, a non-invasive imaging system. Hundreds of X-ray photos are compiled by the scanner's software to produce 360 degree, 3D, images. The psyllid spreads a plant-infecting bacterium during feeding and the US Department of Agriculture fear it could destroy the country's citrus industry. Scientists studying its biology called in the University of Granada Professor to help. Alba-Tercedor's scans showed that the insect has an external sucking apparatus called the 'stylet bundle' that it inserts into young citrus leaves. SOUNDBITE (English) JAVIER ALBA-TERCEDOR, PROFESSOR AT THE DEPARTMENT OF ZOOLOGY OF UNIVERSITY OF GRANADA, SAYING: "They are injecting their sucking apparatus inside the vessel and we see even the saliva and the bacteria even because we can travel inside the vessel, we are looking at in a way that no-one could imagine before." The pest attacks the leaves of lemon, lime, orange, and other citrus trees, transferring bacterium. This causes the leaves to wither, the fruit to drop prematurely, and eventually the tree dies. The disease can sweep though a citrus grove and there's no known cure. Professor Susan Brown from Kansas State University is leading an interdisciplinary grant project that aims to find weak links in the psyllid's biology. Her team says these scans will help achieve that goal. U.S. Department of Agriculture team members want to use RNA interference technology to disrupt the pest's genes....and save the citrus industry from decimation.