Thursday, February 29, 2024

Genetically Modified Banana Resistant to Panama Disease: Approved in Australia

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Agriculture, Sustainability, Global Change, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

Bananas suffer a worldwide devastating fungal disease known as Panama Tropical Race 4. So far it has eluded treatment or cure.  
Nature Briefing from the journal Nature reported on February 19, 2024 about a genetically modified (GM) banana known as QCAV - 4 that regulators have "approved in Australia and New Zealand as a 'safety net' in case biosecurity efforts fail to restrict the spread of the disease." Readers were pointed to a story about this development from ABC News, Australia.

Lydia Burton reported the story on QLD Country Hour (QLD = Queensland, Australia). It is comprehensive and includes several pictures.

Burton leads the story with a short summary.

"In short: The genetically modified banana has been developed as an industry back-up in case Panama TR4 breaks out, but will not replace the Cavendish variety.

"Scientists have used a gene from a wild banana that is almost immune to TR4 and placed it in a Cavendish variety. 

"What's next? Scientists hope to use gene editing to develop other disease-resistant and climate-smart varieties to future-proof the banana industry."

In a conversation with James Dale who leads the banana biotechnology program at Queensland University of Technology Burton reports that Dale told her "'About 95 per cent of Australia's bananas are grown in Queensland, and Cavendish banana accounts for 97 per cent of production.'"

The TR4 disease was first reported in an area of Queensland in 2015 and has been quite well controlled with management. However, recent floods have raised concerns about containing it since the fungus thrives in the soil.

Burton ask about biosafety, always first and foremost when GM interventions and crops are grown. Dale commented on one difference in this biotechnology. "'We have moved a banana gene from one banana to another. There's nothing scary, The gene was already present in Cavendish ... it just doesn't work so we have put in a version that works.'"

Burton reports on what's next, e.g., field testing (these are called paddocks in Australia) going from somewhat controlled environments to those that have fewer controls, developing a banana resistant to other diseases and there is one. Again Dale explains. "'The biggest disease other than TR4 in the world is black sigatoka … a leaf-infecting fungus.

"'In Australia, we're very lucky. We have a milder version of that. But in some countries, particularly in Central America, they spray up to 60 times a year to try to control this fungus.'"

And climate change includes new threats according to Dale, the development of "'new cultivars that are able to cope with all these new conditions'" or what Dale refers to as  "'future proofing'." 

Here is the story.

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