Varieties Resistant to Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense is commercially used in the Philippines against Panama Disease epidemics

The article in the following link states that the first resistant Cavendish banana has been developed through GMO approach. This article is inaccurate —

http://www.freshplaza.com/article/185084/World-first-Panama-disease-resistant-Cavendish-bananas-developed#.Who9IfKRFLw.facebook

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The Taiwan Banana Research Institute (TBRI) developed resistant Cavendish since the mid 90s to address Foc TR4 problem that beset Taiwan banana industry since 1967. The Taiwanese breeders employed selection from somaclonal variation caused by commercial tissue culture production (favourable off types). This was a TBRI farmer-participated selection of resistant mutant plants in the field planted with millions of tissue culture seedlings in farmers’ Fusarium Wilt TR4 infested soil. This is a proven noble, practical and successful approach in developing a Cavendish resistant to Foc TR4. Several Giant Cavendish Tissue Culture Variants (GCTCVs) were selected resistant and used to alleviate the disease problem thereby sustaining the Taiwanese banana industry

Bioversity International in the framework of the Banana Asia Pacific Network (BAPNET) through the leadership of Dr. Agustin Molina has introduced some of these somaclones in Indonesia, China and the Philippines (the countries where Foc TR4 is a problem) for the purpose of evaluation, adoption, and further selection.

In 2004, GCTCV 119 and GCTCV 218 were introduced in Indonesia to be tested against TR4 in plantations in Lampung, Sumatra that were previously devastated by TR4 in the 90s. Improved selections of GCTCV 218 are now commercially used. Cavendish plantations have now again increased production to more than 2,000 hectares supplying the local supermarket and a little export to Singapore.

Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 (Foc TR4) epidemic in the Philippines started around the year 2000. It became a serious threat to the multi-billion peso export of the Philippines – the major producer-exporter of Cavendish bananas in Asia. In 2006, Dr. Molina of Bioversity International started coordinating a public-private partnership with the industry and government research institutions to adapt and use these resistant GCTCVs.

After many years of painstaking screen house studies, small plots and commercial trials, GCTCV 218, was recommended for use. Commercial planting started in 2014 to rehabilitate severely affected farms. To date, an estimated volume of more than 8 million seedlings of GCTCV 218 have been planted and harvested. The seedling production and planting is still expanding. These are marketed in Japan, Korea, China and Middle East (GCTCV 218 is not a GMO). Banana growers, both small and big plantations, are very satisfied with the field performance of GCTCV 218 especially in areas where one can no longer grow the susceptible commercial Cavendish because of the disease. The fruits are well accepted in the export market.

Western media and researchers are agog of the scientific breakthrough in the GMO research output. It is well celebrated in popolar media such as, the Washington Post, Fresh Plaza and some science journals, that the first Foc TR4 resistant bananas has been developed through GMO approach. This GMO output (which is yet to see lights in farmers field in terms of yield, fruit quality, and Foc resistance; and most importantly acceptability in markets allergic to GMO products), is now given huge hype in the media. This is accompanied with inaccurate or sensationalized news from such as the Washington Post, New York Times and CNN that the bananas will disappear soon, will meet an “apocalypse”, unless resistant varieties are developed and that GMO approaches by western labs are supported. Such is purveyed by the same researchers who aim to attract donors for their laboratory research. Yet none covers the success of Asian research efforts like the GCTCV somaclones. If ever mentioned it is downplayed that the GCTCVs are susceptible as the susceptible Cavendish based on their laboratory and small plot research (see the text of the Fresh Plaza article).

Objectively, we congratulate these researchers for their research milestone, worthy for typical scientific journal such as Nature. The research output is indeed a legitimate milestone of strategic basic science approach related to crop improvement. This may be used for future crop improvement not only for TR4 for the commercial monoculture Cavendish, but for the many local cultivars grown by small scale farmers for local foods and market. These varieties are severely constrained by important diseases such as nematodes, viruses, bacterial diseases and fungal disease such as Black Sigatoka.

Fusarium Wilt TR4 is such huge global R&D challenge that everyone in the scientific stakeholders chain has a role to play to help banana farmers. At this point however, it is too little and far down as far as the Cavendish banana industry of rural poor and income from export of developing countries like the Philippines.

Meanwhile, banana growers are appreciative that they have GCTCV 218 and other GCTCVs to sustain their livelihoods. It is not a perfect replacement of existing commercial varieties in unaffected areas in terms of ratooning cycle. It is however comparable if not better in terms of important parameters such as box/stem ratio, post-harvest operations, fruit quality, and most importantly resistance to Foc TR4. it is the best under current situations in Asia. With millions of plants now in production, Dr. Molina and team are working with the growers to select improved plant types of the GCTCVs. This is a proven crop improvement technique in bananas. With the technique selection, soon the industry will be able to develop an even better version of GCTCV 218. Indeed there are already some selections under rigid testings.

The Philippine industry players were asked what do they think of testing the GMO lines as being offered by Dr. Dale in his recent trips to promote the adaption of his variety in the Philippines. The unanimous answer is that the GMO may not at this point in time beneficial to the Philippine industry. With GCTCV 218 and the recurrent selection for improvement in place, coupled with relevant integrated disease management practices to prevent or slow down disease spread, the GMO may not be needed. The current markets are not receptive to GMO bananas, whether the risk is real or perceived. Bringing in GMO variety even just for testing may unnecessarily “stain” the image of quality of Philippine bananas in the market. The thinking is that, Ecuadorian bananas that are now getting a share in Japanese market may eventually get the luxurious Asian markets if our bananas are tainted with a GMO reputation.

If only for field testing for verification of field resistance, yield, and fruit quality, the GMO lines from QUT should first be studied more thoroughly in Northern Territory, Australia where TR4 has long destroyed the several Cavendish farms in the area.

This write-up is intended to make the public and the R&D community aware of the great scientific and practical milestones and outcomes of a noble crop improvement. Specifically, it is a mutation breeding through somaclonal selections from tissue culture-caused variation, and the role the farmers in such crop improvement program. We also want to seek support for such approach, as well as encourage the scientific community to appreciate such program. We worked with partners through the Banana Asia Pacific Network (http://banana-networks.org/Bapnet/) – a research network that was coordinated by Bioversity International in addressing the Foc TR4 problem in Asia. The impacts of our R&D outputs are measured not much on how many we have published in scientific journals but how many have used the technology developed from our research.

Certainly, Dr. Dale’s GMO Cavendish line is a good scientific breakthrough but not the first Foc resistant variety that was developed and planted.

Science is search for truth.

Below are some pictures showing the adoption of GCTCV 218 in commercially rehabilitating TR4 affected farms in the Philippines

For more information:
a.molina@cgiar.org
or FB account Agustin Molina

Click on the images for a bigger view

GCTCVs shared to BAPNET
Bioversity in Asia acquired from the Taiwan Banana Research Institute (TBRI) the GCTCVs in the framework of regional collaboration in Asia through the Banana Asia Pacific Network (BAPNET)

Adoption of GCTCV 218
In 2012, this farm of Dole was totally destroyed then abandoned because of severe infestations of Foc TR4. GCTCV 218 was planted in 2015. To date they already have harvested 3 ratoons. The infection of TR4 is less than 4%. Planting Gran Naine in this farm does not last until harvest of primary crop

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Mass production of tissue culture seedlings of GCTCV 218 by big companies. Small growers have little access of quality seedlings of GCTCV 218. This is where the government should help them access GCTCV 218 to benefit from the technology. An estimate of more than 8 million seedlings so far have been planted by the industry to manage TR4.

Licanan Farm 2014 & 2017
The same farm in Davao, Philippines I took picture in 2014, 2 years after it was abandoned. Replanted in 2015. Dole has already harvested 3 ratoons. Box stem ratio is as high as Gran Naine. Foc TR4 infection is less than 4%.

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Mrs Emerita Mauro, a small Cavendish farmer with 15 hectares planted to GCTCV 218. Her farm was totally devastated by TR4.

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