Team meeting in Miami

As a satellite meeting to the 2016 International Banana Congress & ACORBOAT meeting in Miami, Florida, the INREF team met at the University of Florida and Tropical Research Center, Homestead, Florida, April 18-19 2016.

The meeting was organized by Prof. Dr. Randy Ploetz, one of the members of the External Advisory Board (EAB) of the INREF program. The other members of the EAB, Prof. James Dale (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia), Dr. Fazil Dusunzeli (FAO HQ, Italy) and Dr. Ronald Romero (Del Monte Fresh Fruits, Costa Rica), were joined by the internationally renowned banana researchers Dr. Miguel Dita (Embrapa, Brazil) and Prof. Dr. Andre Drenth (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia) to review the progress of the INREF program.

The meeting program involved short presentations of current research followed by a round of questions and discussions, followed by internal discussions and future prospects on the development and finalizing of the program. Presentations for the 6th International Banana Congress & 21st ACORBOAT meeting were developed and discussed. The EAB and guest reviewers were impressed by the results of the INREF program, which is a unique suite of interdisciplinary R&D projects that should be the foundation for new projects to continue international links, collaborations and research for managing Fusarium wilt in global banana production.

On April 19 – 22, 2016 the 6th International Banana Congress & 21st ACORBOAT meeting took place Miami too. Prior to the Corbana/Acorbat meeting the INREF team organized a stakeholder event on April 19th to discuss the INREF progress and perspectives with INREF partners and interested attendees. These presentations were developed during the INREF satellite in Homestead, and were discussed in lively round table feed-back/lunch discussions. The INREF students used this feed-back for articulating the final phase of their individual projects.

The 6th Corbana International Banana Congress and the 21st Acorbat meetings were for the first time combined and as such it was a unique event. However, the organizers also decided to move the meeting from San José, Costa Rica, to Miami to avoid any potential TR4 incursion into Costa Rica as the meeting attracted over 3,000 attendees from all over the world, including TR4 infested countries.

The combined 6th Corbana International Banana Congress and 21st Acorbat meeting is the largest banana sector meeting in the world. The industry gathers to discuss the latest developments throughout the sector with presentations from virtually every aspect of banana production. Disease control is always a major part of the program with substantial attention for black Sigatoka caused by Pseudocercospora fijiensis as well as soil management and reduction of chemicals. Regarding banana as a business a very complete and detailed overview was given on how the banana industry evolves and transforms to meet customer demands or other factors such as climate change, politics and various other subjects.

In addition, the organizers programmed one full day to discuss the TR4 threat and INREF was prominently present during this day. Prof. Randy Ploetz kicked-off the program with a key-note address on the history and status of Fusarium wilt in banana. This was followed by a talk of INREF coordinator Prof. Dr. Gert Kema about the latest developments about the global genetic diversity of Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, with emphasis on diagnosis, detection and management practices as well as screening for resistance to TR4 in banana germplasm. Furthermore, scientists from Australia, Brazil, China, Cuba, France, Honduras, South Africa, The Netherlands and Philippines presented their views and results on the threat of TR4. Presentations covered banana breeding – genetic engineering, conventional and somaclone development – TR4 diagnosis and detection as well as the potential of biological control. The breeding perspective provided a potential outlook for managing TR4 in the future despite the long-term horizon. The INREF team was represented by two keynote talks (Gert Kema and Jetse Stoorvogel), two short talks (Maricar Salacinas and Rafael Segura) and four posters.

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Disseminating Panama Disease in banana caused by one single clone of the Fusarium fungus

Scientists at Wageningen UR have demonstrated that the same clone of the Fusarium fungus is infecting Cavendish bananas in several countries dotted across the globe. This shows that this Fusarium clone, also known as Tropical Race 4, is continuing to spread despite the quarantine measures, with disastrous results for banana growers. The results from the research appeared today in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens.

Panama disease is caused by the Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense fungus. One of the Fusarium strains is called ‘Tropical Race 4’ (TR4) and infects many local banana varieties as well as the widely exported Cavendish banana, which is very susceptible to this strain. The soil-borne fungus enters the banana plant through the root and eventually kills the entire plant. Banana-growing plots infested with the fungus remain contaminated for many years. It is then no longer possible to cultivate bananas on such a plot of land, as new banana plants become infected too. Large areas of banana plantations in countries such as Jordan, Mozambique, China, the Philippines, Pakistan and Australia are no longer suitable for banana farming, as they have become infested with the Panama disease fungus. There are currently no means of combating the disease; only quarantine measures can prevent banana plantations from becoming infested.

DNA investigation
The researchers at Wageningen UR analysed the DNA of many fungus specimens from eight countries where the fungus has recently been identified, including Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan, in order to trace how Panama disease has come to spread to different locations across the globe. The research highlighted that the strains of the fungus, which were collected are genetically identical. The strains are clones. Gert Kema, banana expert at Wageningen UR, says: ‘This research demonstrates that the quarantine measures and information provided around the globe apparently have not had the desired effect.’

A tale of two clones
Not only the TR4 fungus strain is a clone: all Cavendish bananas also share the same genes. Kema explains: ‘The Cavendish banana is very susceptible to TR4. Therefore, the fungus can spread easily due to the worldwide monoculture of Cavendish bananas. That’s why we have to intensify awareness campaigns to reach small and large-scale growers in order to help them with developing and implementing quarantine measures preventing the fungus from continued spreading.’[/two_third]

Worldwide approach needed to stop further spreading
To stop further spreading, Kema’s team is working with a large number of partners in different locations across the globe to develop short-term solutions for Panama disease management. Kema continues: ‘We are gaining more and more insight into the scope of the issue. The ability to quickly identify infected banana plants and infested soils is extremely important in this respect. However, eventually we have to come up with long-term solutions, particularly host resistance, which can only be developed in strong multidisciplinary alliances with various partners and industry.’

The research was carried out by Wageningen UR in cooperation with the University of Queensland and Diversity Arrays Technology Pty Ltd in Australia and the University of Florida in the United States.

You can read the complete article in PLOS Pathogens via:

Contact Gert Kema, banana expert at Wageningen UR, for questions about the research.


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Fernando Garcia-Bastidas in Santa Marta Colombia

Last month Fernando Garcia-Bastidas was international speaker at the “I technical banana Colloquium: threats and challenges of the Banana sector facing variability and climate change” in Santa Marta Colombia. The meeting was organised by Asbama ( Asociación de Bananeros del Magdalena y la Guajira) and CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical). Fernando was invited to a dissertation of Panama Disease with emphasis on Tropical Race 4. It was a great opportunity to meet fellow scientists and to discuss threats and opportunities. In the picture from left to right: Dr. Mario Orozco-Santos (researcher at INIFAP, Mexico), Fernando (Wageningen UR, Netherlands), Dr. Anuar Escaf (CEO ASBAMA, Colombia) and Germán Calberto Sánchez (Researcher at CIAT, Colombia).

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