The big news of the first transgenic Cavendish banana resistant to TR4 has reached the press. In the Netherlands one of the main national news channels (NOS) made an item for their website. Fernando Garcia Bastidas, one of the banana researchers at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, explains about the breakthrough in this excellent video made by NOS. Most of the item is in the English language, so we think it is well worth watching. https://nos.nl/op3/artikel/2204634-waarom-je-straks-misschien-geen-banaan-meer-kan-eten.html
Some of the other digital media covering the news:
We are proud to present our new website: www.fusariumwilt.org . Panamadisease.org will maintain accessible, but there is a serious plea to dissociate the name Panama from the disease in banana. The main reason, though was to keep up with the current requirements to ensure a future proof site that can also be viewed on mobile devices. The positive feed-back on the previous site was overwhelming and hence, we hope you enjoy visiting the new website even more.
The new website is fully responsive, so it will look great on your dekstop, laptop, tablet and smartphone. The new site was designed and built by Neo & Co.
Ioannis Stergiopoulos, Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis; André Drenth, Professor of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland and Gert Kema, Special Professor of Phytopathology, Wageningen University wrote an article for ‘The conversation’, the communication platform with ‘Academic rigour & journalistic flair’. With the article, Ioannis, André and Gert try to answer the question whether science can help the endangered Cavendish banana to survive. The piece attracted very much interest of news media, it even reached the homepage of CNN.
The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public. Their team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
The British Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) granted a project to the University of Exeter on “Securing the future of the UK’s favourite fruit”. The UK is highly dependent on imported fruit and vegetables that make up eighty per cent of the market, compared with half of cereals and one sixth of meat and dairy produce. Yet, fruit and vegetables are a key component of a healthy diet, often overlooked in studies of global food security that tend to focus on the major grains. Reliance on imports makes the UK vulnerable to instabilities in international production and supply, placing the issue of resilience of the UK food system firmly in a global context. This vulnerability is epitomized by the banana, the most popular fruit in the UK by consumption, and the most important fruit in the world by production. More than five billion bananas are purchased in Britain each year, and the UK accounts for seven per cent of the global export market. Though hundreds of banana varieties are grown around the world for domestic consumption, only one variety, Cavendish, is internationally traded. The previous export variety, Gros Michel, was eliminated by Panama Disease (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense) in the 1950s, and now a new virulent strain, Tropical Race 4 (TR4), is emerging from Asia to threaten Cavendish. No alternative tradable varieties are available, and no chemical disease controls exist. The vulnerability of the banana trade is an extreme case of the more general issue of imported crops that are vulnerable to emerging pests and diseases.
However, the banana remains under-researched compared with the major crops, there has been little academic analysis of the resilie
nce of the banana trade nor development of mitigation strategies to maintain supply or manage the impact of sudden catastrophe. In this multidisciplinary research programme, the UN FAO World Banana Forum (WBF) will collate detailed data on production levels, disease impacts, and mitigation methods. In this project patterns, trends and drivers of banana production, including pests, diseases, management, and climate, will be analyzed to provide robust models of production and how this could vary in the future as diseases spread and the climate changes. Wageningen University and Research will test a new antifungal compound against TR4, to determine whether chemical control could mitigate production impacts while alternative resistant varieties remain under development.
In addition, an economic model will be developed that characterizes the main features of the UK value chain, forming the basis for assessing the price transmission impacts following shocks in upstream markets and, by extension, the impact on UK consumers and the responses by UK food retailers and other market intermediaries. The theoretical framework will be calibrated and simulates the impact of projected production shocks in exporting countries on UK consumers, and derives the welfare impact for participants at each stage of the value chain.
The banana market is politically sensitive, and over the past decade the price of bananas in the UK has declined, while production costs have increased, placing pressure on producers. Via the WBF, the UK charity Banana Link and the food sector consultancy 3Keel the UK retail sector will be engaged along with other stakeholders in rigorous key informant analysis of potential responses to vulnerabilities in the sector, impacts of prices rises on the UK consumer, feedbacks to producers, and strategies to improve resilience to production shocks. The projects’ goal is to secure the future of the UK’s favourite fruit, and provide a case study for improving the resilience of other vulnerable imported commodities.
In November 2015 we received a German TV crew at WUR who also visited our partners in Indonesia and the Philippines. On 5 January 2016 the TV program Quarks & Co of WDR1, a national TV channel in Germany, devoted a full broadcast to bananas. The threat of fungal diseases was beautifully covered. We expect that millions of German viewers now know much more about the importance of banana for food supply, income of people and societies around the globe, and about the plant diseases that threaten bananas worldwide.
Katharina Nickoleit, who was in the TV crew, also made a radio-item about the issue.
Following outbreaks in Jordan and Mozambique just over a year ago, the Tropical Race 4 strain (TR4) of Fusarium oxysporum – the cause of Panama disease in Cavendish bananas – has now spread to Pakistan and Lebanon. TR4 was also reported in Queensland, Australia, on 15 March 2015. These events underline once more the extent of the threat TR4 poses to global banana production. Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) has joined forces with Asim Agriculture Farm in Pakistan and Debbane Agri Group in Lebanon to analyse samples from symptomatic plants. The results were published yesterday in the journal Plant Disease.
Pakistan Hadi Bux Laghari from Asim Agriculture Farm in Tando Allahyar, Sindh, Pakistan, detected suspicious symptoms of wilt on banana plants and made an appeal on an online forum. The Wageningen UR scientist Gert Kema offered to analyse samples of the plant. After several experimental steps, including DNA diagnosis, isolation of the fungus and infection of healthy banana plants in a contained greenhouse at Wageningen UR, Kema’s team concluded that TR had indeed reached Pakistan. Further dissemination of the disease in the country is a grave concern: the pathogen was detected in an area which is prone to flooding and neighbours India, the world’s largest banana producer, with an annual production of nearly 30 million tonnes.
Lebanon A similar request reached Wageningen UR via Debbane Frères in Lebanon. Despite the small affected area of just a few hectares, alert growers raised the alarm and samples were dispatched and analysed at Wageningen. Once again, the diagnosis was TR4.
More than a local issue Kema: “It is unclear how the disease got in Pakistan, but we do know that it spreads very quickly. While the initial infected area was only six hectares, we have reports that over 100 hectares are now affected. This is more than a local issue – it is a threat to the entire region. The appearance of the pathogen in Lebanon is most likely due to local transportation of infected plants, possibly from Jordan, which underscores the need for quarantine and awareness campaigns.”
FAO requests measures to prevent further spread The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently asked countries to take measures to prevent the spread of Panama disease. This includes training people to diagnose the fungus, improving monitoring & reporting procedures, and taking preventive and quarantine measures against further proliferation. In December 2014, experts at FAO, including Kema, discussed the current situation and called for global action against this deadly banana disease.
Panama disease The causal agent of Panama disease is the soil-borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense. Other genotypes of the fungus, representing Race 1, devastated plantations of Gros Michel bananas in the previous century – in fact, this was one of the largest botanical epidemics of all times. Global banana production collapsed and was only saved by switching to the resistant Cavendish cultivar.
Now history is repeating itself. Panama disease was diagnosed in Cavendish bananas for the first time in Taiwan in the 1990s. A new, aggressive strain of the Fusarium fungus, colloquially called Tropical Race 4, was found to be pathogenic on the hitherto resistant billion-dollar cultivar. Since then, TR4 has spread throughout Southeast Asia.
“The recent spread to Jordan and Mozambique, and now Pakistan, Lebanon and Australia, shows that we should urgently consider options for international quarantine,” Kema says. “Further expansion of TR4 has potentially huge consequences for the food supply, as well as employment and economic stability in the international banana export sector.”
Resistant varieties Kema and his team are currently screening large numbers of bananas for resistance to Panama disease. “There are many local banana varieties in addition to Cavendish,” Kema explains. “Our goal is to find fruits resistant to TR4 and to identify the responsible genes. Armed with this knowledge, we can start developing resistant bananas together with our partners.” A summary of the data is publicly available on panamadisease.org/en/projects. “We aim to deliver results as soon as possible to support breeders and other teams in their research,” Kema concludes.