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Chilean citrus industry prepares for the future with the development of a Germplasm Bank

The project will allow farmers to access disease-free varieties.


Lemon crop in Chile.

Having healthy vegetative material, free of pests and diseases that contributes to competitiveness in the production of citrus fruits in our country. That is the objective of the first Germplasm Bank developed by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, with the support of the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation (FIA).

The project consists of developing an area to house the genetic diversity of healthy citrus plants, so that the material is the basis for producing, in a first stage, an improved ordinary citrus plant. For this, tests will be carried out periodically, in order to verify their health and thus keep the vegetative material free of viruses and diseases. In addition, it includes the introduction to the country of new varieties of citrus with projection in the international market, and the training in the United States of a specialist from the UCV in the identification and control of HBL disease, which is a threat to the national citrus industry. .


The plant health verification process will be carried out through the validation of a new technology based on the use of an indicator plant and PCR analysis, (a technique also used for the COVID-19 test), which consists of in laboratory tests that analyze the RNA sequence of viruses and viroids present in plants. The professor at the School of Agronomy of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso and executor of the project, Ximena Besoain, indicates that “these new systems will allow us to carry out an efficient detection at a lower cost of the main diseases caused by viruses and viroids, transmissible by grafting (CGTPs), plus HLB (the world's most serious pest for trees) and will make healthy propagation material available to the citrus industry ”.


To date, there are various diseases that affect the citrus industry in our country. Citrus trees have a long lifespan, allowing complex interactions with microorganisms throughout the soil and in areas above the surface.
Along these lines, the executive director of the FIA, Álvaro Eyzaguirre, maintains that “during the 2020 season, total citrus exports reached almost 370 thousand tons, the main market being the United States. This volume represents an increase compared to last season, so these diseases undoubtedly increase the cost of production and millionaire losses for those who work daily to offer a healthy and nutritious product to a population that is increasing, even more so when we have limited natural resources. We are in a context where the various complications are accelerated by the drought, cold and salinity of the soil that limit the cultivation of citrus fruits, so the work carried out by the professionals of the PUCV is key for the future and development of the sector ”.

A step forward

Besoaín adds that “this initiative will help reduce the risks of loss of production and quality in the orchards. It will make it possible to face situations in which varietal replacement is necessary, without the risk of spreading different diseases. And farmers in particular will be able to improve their returns on investment and thus they will be able to take advantage of the opening of new markets ”.

She adds that the implementation of the germplasm bank allows us to have healthy citrus material, and as a consequence, a better quality is obtained in the plants, allowing in the future the development of a certified plant. Likewise, it protects orchards from the impact of HBL and prevents the spread of pathogens, viruses and viroids, present in Chile.


One of the entities associated with the project is the Citrus Committee. For its president, Juan Enrique Ortuzar, this is an initiative highly valued by the sector, since it will keep varieties of commercial propagation safe and available. “In the case of entering a pest or disease such as HLB, a safe propagation scheme can be implemented very quickly with the nurseries. If we did not have a germplasm bank, the national citrus industry would lose five years due to not being able to renew itself and this would have a very high cost ”.

 Those producers who are affected by agronomic problems and seek to replace their orchards with citrus plantations, will be able to do so in the medium term, with a lower level of risk, "thus contributing to the growth of the citrus industry in the long term", Besoain concludes.

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