PhD managing Panama Disease in the Philippines

PhD managing Panama Disease in the Philippines

On 27 August 2019 Maricar Salacinas defended her PhD research at Wageningen University on Fusarium odoratissimum Tropical race 4 (TR4) in the Philippines. In this research she used molecular diagnostic tools to examine the spatial dispersal, epidemiology and management options of Panama disease in the banana belt of the Philippines. The research contributes to the development of evidence-based and cost-effective management strategies in combating Panama disease.

One of the important outcomes for combating strategies was that the pathogen was found distributed across soil layers of up to 1 meter below the surface of profiles cropped with either Cavendish or local banana cultivars. Making the efficacy of field sanitation by burning inefficient to eliminate TR4 propagules in the soil and therefore it should be reconsidered.

Anaerobic soil disinfestation from two commercially available organic amendments as a biological option for Panama disease management showed promises under laboratory and field conditions to contribute to short-term management options to continue banana production in Panama disease affected farms.

Detection tool

A rapid and highly DNA specific detection assay based on Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) for Fusarium odoratissimum Tropical race 4, was developed that is pertinent under laboratory and field conditions. This developed assay offers a powerful tool for epidemiological study on TR4 and is indispensable for implementing quarantine measures.


Banana, either the cooking or the dessert type, is regarded as one of the most important staple or crop. Currently the global banana production is threatened by a destructive soil-borne fungus Fusarium odoratissimum Tropical race 4 (TR4) causing Panama disease in banana. The on-going dispersal of the pathogen raises the fear of the demise of our beloved banana. As of this writing, there is no concrete solution available to combat the disease, hence manifold of management strategies are explored. That these strategies are needed is made clear by the recent and first outbreaks in Latin America.

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Dutch Greenhouse bananas grown above ground

Dutch Greenhouse bananas grown above ground

The first bananas were harvested in a Wageningen Greenhouse, according to the Wageningen World Magazine. Researchers have been growing them above ground in order to trying to outsmart the Panama disease caused by Fusarium Wilt, which is threatening the banana population around the world.

From all sides researchers are looking for approaches, e.g., genetics and growing conditions, to making global cultivation more sustainable.

Check out this article in Wageningen World.

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Overcoming the developing pandemic of Panama disease in banana

Overcoming the developing pandemic of Panama disease in banana

New methods to efficiently monitor Panama disease, also known as Fusarium wilt, caused by Fusarium species in bananaswere developed during the PhD research of Fernando Garcia-Bastidas at Wageningen University and Research. These new methods and trials enabled a close monitoring of the international and intercontinental dissemination of the so-called Tropical Race 4 (TR4) strain of Fusarium odoratissimum, a new species originating from Indonesia that devastates banana plantations of Cavendish as well as many other local varieties around the world. 

Fernando Garcia-Bastidas defended his dissertation entitled ‘Panama disease in banana: Spread, screens and genes’ on March 19, 2019 at Wageningen University. The thesis describes the developing pandemic of a Fusarium species, which causes Panama disease in banana. He focused his research on the genetic diversity for resistance towards a panel of Fusarium strains representing global pathogenic diversity and aspects of the molecular interaction between the fungus and the host.

The thesis further explores the resistance to TR4 in a wide panel of banana accessions and the possible use of a resistance gene from a wild banana ancestor by genetically transforming Cavendish bananas, thereby providing a potential solution for sustainable disease management. Lasting disease management, however, relies on genetic diversity and the research described in this thesis is the basis for developing such new varieties.

For more information, see this page.

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PhD defence on insights into the global genetic diversity of Fusarium

On October 17th 2018 Nadia Ordóñez defended her PhD entitled ‘A global genetic diversity analysis of Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc)’ at Wageningen University. In her research the genetic and geographically diversity of Tropical race 4 (TR4) strain of Foc was mapped out using DNA sequencing methods.

Bananas are an essential staple food and a significant income for agricultural-based economies in developing countries. Fusarium wilt of bananas, popularly known as Panama disease, is one of the most threatening fungal diseases of banana production. Foc is the causal fungal agent of this disease. The TR4 strain of this fungus affects many local banana varieties as well as the Cavendish cultivar, which accounts for 85% of world trade in bananas. Since all Cavendish bananas are clones of each other and there is little variation, they are highly susceptible to TR4, making the sector extremely vulnerable.

In the research of Nadia a molecular detection tool to monitor the spread of TR4 was developed. This assay enables rapid, routine and unambiguous detection of TR4 in the field and is therefore of immense value for charting the progression of its spread. That this is urgently needed, the results provide an image that all TR4 isolates, regardless of the year of isolation and country of origin, were highly infectious on both ‘Gros Michel’ and ‘Grand Naine’ banana varieties , underpinning the risk for banana plantations that only rely on these cultivars.


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INREF and KNAW-SPIN progress

All students are writing their PhD books! Hence, we are in harvest time. We expect dozens of new exciting papers that will move the front forward and together form a solid foundation for a new phase in Panama disease research.

Jaye de la Cruz, first INREF PhD student graduated

On October 23rd, 2017, Jaye de la Cruz successfully defended her PhD thesis titled “Panama disease in banana and neoliberal governance: towards a political ecology of risk”. Jaye was supervised by Dr Kees Jansen and her promotor was Prof. Philip McNaughton. Her thesis casts a different light on a major plant disease in a major crop and underscores the complexity of international action to reduce its risk, particularly by illuminating the power relationships in the sector.


Forthcoming PhD graduations

We fixed the dates for three students, most other will fix their dates soon likely for graduation in November and December 2018.

On June 6th, Ms. Caucasella Diaz Trujillo, Mexico, will defend her PhD thesis titled “Functional genetics and genomics of the banana black Sigatoka pathogen Pseudocercospora fijiensis”. The ceremony is at the Wageningen University and Research auditorium, Building 362, General Foulkesweg 1, 6703 BG Wageningen, and start at 13:30.

On October 16th, Ms. Nadia Ivone Ordóñez Román, INREF PhD student, will defend her thesis titled “A global genetic diversity analysis of Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, the Panama disease pathogen of banana”. The ceremony is at the Wageningen University and Research auditorium, Building 362, General Foulkesweg 1, 6703 BG Wageningen, and start at 16:00.

On October 29th, Ms. Nani Maryani Martawi, KNAW-SPIN student, will defend her thesis titled “Fusarium wilt of banana in Indonesia: genetic diversity and phylogeny of causal fungi”. The ceremony is at the Wageningen University and Research auditorium, Building 362, General Foulkesweg 1, 6703 BG Wageningen, and start at 11:00. 



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Einar Martinez de la Parte joins the Wageningen Banana team


Since November 21, 2017 Einar Martinez, Instituto de Investigaciones en Sanidad Vegetal (INISAV), Cuba, started his PhD project on Panama disease in banana.
In Cuba, more than 179.000 ha of dessert bananas and plantain bananas are grown, which are primarily used as staple food. His research will focus on the diversity of Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense. in Cuba. Furthermore, he will evaluate resistance in Cuban banana germplasm, unravel the race concept in Foc and study the role of the microbiome for disease control. Einar’s project in funded by NUFFIC, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education.


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