AUSTRALIA: Mutated bananas in Northern Territory being tested for ability to withstand Panama Disease Tropical Race 4


Trials of ‘mutated bananas’ on a research farm in the Northern Territory are being watched closely by Australia’s $600 million banana industry.

 

It is hoped these banana plants will be resistant to the deadly Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which wiped out the NT’s banana industry in the 1990s and in recent years has been discovered in Queensland’s Tully Valley.

 

 

The Northern Territory has been at the forefront of TR4 research for a number of years and was making excellent progress until 2015, when all of the research trials were destroyed during the eradication program for another banana disease, Banana Freckle.

 

The Coastal Plains research station near Darwin is now permitted to grow bananas again, and over the past two years has trialled 27 varieties, which showed some promising results.

 

Partnering with the Queensland Government and with funding from Hort Innovation, there are now two lines of mutated varieties in the ground and more will soon be planted.

 

It might sound like something out of an X-Men movie, but radiation has long been used by plant breeders to speed up natural processes, with researchers now hoping it can unlock answers to making TR4-resistant bananas that are edible.

 

“Plants and everything else on this Earth get exposed to radiation from the stratosphere, and over time we have a little bit of mutation to our genetic make-up,” researcher Lucy Tran-Nguyen said.

 

“So in the lab, we fast-track this process and we call it mutagenesis.

 

“We take little banana shoots, expose them to a low dosage of gamma radiation rays, and monitor them over time to see if we’ve been able to create an elite line.”

 

Dr Tran-Nguyen said the project had identified a few lines of bananas in the Northern Territory that had the potential to survive under TR4 pressure.

 

“With our Queensland collaborators, using a tissue culture laboratory in Maroochydore, these potentials were sent to Queensland University to be gamma-radiated, and now they’re back in the NT to grow out in the field, under TR4 disease pressure,” she said.

 

“We’re now looking to see if we’ve got a line that can survive and is also good eating and suitable for the consumer.”

 

Trial bananas showing no sign of Panama Disease

Dr Tran-Nguyen said the two lines were doing well and were showing no signs of Panama Disease.

 

“But so far we haven’t been able to ascertain a very good elite line from this and [be] able to say ‘We’ve done it’.”

 

She said around the world the race was on to find a banana that was resistant to TR4 and also tasted good.

 

“This is very important [research],” she said.

 

“Since TR4 was detected in northern Queensland, there’s been a sense of urgency, because that’s basically 95 per cent of where Australia’s banana industry resides and everyone loves eating Cavendish, which is very susceptible to Panama wilt.

 

“So it’s extremely important, and I think the importance of the work has been highlighted by the Australian banana industry’s focus and funding for this work in the Northern Territory.”

 

The Northern Territory is also playing host to a small, privately run trial of GM bananas, which is also aiming to find a tasty banana variety that is resistant to the disease.

 

Source: Matt Brann, ABC




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