Our Research Supporting the resilience of the citrus industry

Principal Investigator

Olivier de Weck

  • Professor
  • Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Olivier de Weck is Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, with a joint appointment with the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society. His research interests are in the fields of Technology Roadmapping, Satellite Engineering and Systems Engineering as well as Multidisciplinary Design Optimization. He has authored over 400 publications (12 best paper awards since 2004) and is a Fellow of INCOSE, Associate Fellow of AIAA and Senior Member of IEEE. He and his group worked with NASA’s Office of Emerging Space to develop new Commercial Space Technology Roadmaps in 2018 and he is a former Senior Vice President of Technology Planning and Roadmapping at Airbus where he was responsible for roadmapping a $1 billion R&D portfolio for the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer. 


Could the measurement of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) detect Huanglongbing (HLB) Citrus Greening Disease long before visible symptoms appear?

Research Strategy

  • Develop low cost, sensitive prototype sensors
  • Make portable
  • Test, validate and iterate design in field

Project description

J-WAFS Solutions Program

Citrus is a very high-value crop and a nutrient-dense food. It an important part of diets for people in developing countries with micronutrient deficiencies, as well as for people in developed economies who suffer from obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. Citrus fruits have become staples across seasons, cultures, and geographies, yet the large-scale citrus farms in the US that support much of our domestic citrus consumption are challenged by citrus greening disease. An incurable disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), is caused by bacteria transmitted by a small insect, the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacterial infection causes trees to wither and fruit to develop an unpleasantly bitter taste, rendering the tree’s fruit inedible. If left undetected, HLB can very quickly spread throughout large citrus groves. Since there is no treatment, infected trees must be removed to prevent further spreading. The disease poses an immediate threat to the $40B/year worldwide citrus industry. One of the reasons HLB is so troubling is that there doesn’t yet exist an accessible and affordable early detection strategy. Once the observable symptoms of the disease have shown up in one part of a citrus grove, it is likely many more trees are already infected.

Taking on this challenge is a research team at MIT led by Olivier de Weck, a professor in the department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT.  A 2019 J-WAFS Solutions grant is supporting the development of a new technology for early detection of HLB infection in citrus trees. The team’s strategy is to deploy a series of low-cost, high-sensitivity sensors that can be used on-site and which are attuned to volatile organic compounds emitted by citrus trees that change in concentration during early-stage HLB infection when trees do not yet exhibit visible symptoms. Using the data gathered via these sensors, an algorithm developed by the team provides a high-accuracy prediction system for the presence of the disease so that farmers and farm managers can make informed decisions about tree removal in order to protect the remaining trees in their citrus groves. Their aim is to detect HLB disease in weeks, rather than the years it now takes for the infection to be found.

From 2019-2020 this project was led by Karen Gleason, Alexander and I. Michael Kasser (1960) Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, from 2019-2020.

Additional Details

Impact Areas

  • Food

Research Themes

  • Sensors & Monitoring
  • Technology & Commercialization
  • Soil Fertility & Crop Productivity
  • Transforming Food Systems

Year Funded

  • 2019

Grant Type

  • Solutions Grant


  • Ongoing