Catie Eisenhut
Year: 2021
Faculty Advisor: Michelle Heck

“Antibacterial Activity of Kombucha Against Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus: The Search for Organic Solutions to Address Citrus Greening”

Project Summary:

Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) is a bacterial pathogen responsible for the citrus disease Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening. Spread among trees by its insect vector the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), citrus greening has become one of the most harmful citrus diseases in the world. This disease poses a severe threat to the United States citrus sector, including Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry. Options for managing HLB are limited, with many relying on controlling ACP populations with insecticides and removing infected trees within groves. Chemical expenses, environmental concerns, and increasing fear regarding the development of chemical resistance within the ACP population, has led the citrus community to search for more organic solutions. My research project focused on determining if kombucha, a fermented black tea, could be a possible solution to addressing citrus greening. Our interest in kombucha stemmed from research demonstrating that kombucha has antibacterial properties against both gram-positive and gram- negative bacteria. I collaborated with Ithaca Kombucha Company (IKC), who provided me with the kombucha needed for the experiments. Because CLas cannot be cultured, its cultivable relative Liberibacter crescens was used as a model system in in vitro biological studies to test the antibacterial activity of kombucha. Detached leaf assays in different treatments, including kombucha, were used to monitor the presence CLas in plant tissue overtime. The results were then analyzed with RStudio using packages like tidyverse and ggplot to help determine if kombucha could be a useful disease mitigation strategy.

My Experience:

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the Heck Lab this summer. Meeting other like-minded students and the connections I have made through this program are extremely valuable. As my first research experience, I was exposed to a variety of new techniques. Through this internship, I have broadened my knowledge in microbiology and plant science. I am confident that the skills I have learned while at BTI, from bioinformatics to in vitro biological studies, will be beneficial as I continue in my academic and professional careers.