Friday 13th December 2013, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva
New technology for the commercial production of banana and variants using tissue culture and field methods were some key lessons learnt at the training held at the Taiwan Banana Research Institute in October this year.
The training was coordinated by Banana Asia Pacific Network (BAPNET) in collaboration with Bioversity International and the Taiwan Banana Research Institute. It was attended by 23 participants representing 13 countries from the Asia Pacific Region, Africa and the Caribbean.
Ms Logotonu M. Waqainabete, Acting Curator for SPC's Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT), based in Suva, Fiji attended this meeting.
One of the topics discussed during the training was the concept of somaclonal variation (i.e. the variation seen in plants that have been produced by plant tissue culture) and its application in crop improvement programmes that are used by some commercial companies for producing unique traits and variations in crops.
When commercial and conventional breeding programmes do not provide the selected traits required for resistance to herbicides, chemical and environment stresses and certain pests and diseases, somaclonal variation can be used to create new mutants or variants that can resist some deadly diseases.
For example, fusarium wilt (Panama disease) is a fungal disease caused by Fusarium oxysporum f.sp.cubense, specifically FOC TR4, for which there is no effective chemical control known so far. Fusarium wilt is considered by most banana producing and exporting countries to be one of the most catastrophic plant diseases in the world, destroying more than 40,000 ha of banana in Central and South America over a period of 50 years.
There is no record of FOC TR4 in the Pacific region, so it is very important that CePaCT can access somaclonal variants of banana that can resist fusarium wilt, in order to help Pacific Island countries prepare well in advance in case the pathogen does come to Pacific shores.
The training in Taiwan was the outcome of the 8th Steering Committee meeting of Asia-Pacific countries involved in BAPNET held in Taiwan in November 2012. Countries were concerned about the fatal impacts of FOC TR 4 and the Taiwan Banana Research Institute has been successful in producing some somaclonal lines that can sustain their banana industry, despite the presence of fusarium wilt.
The Pacific region has limited resources to implement research and development in banana improvement, as banana breeding itself has its own challenges, expensive but slow. A few bananas produce few seed sets, often with low germination rates, resulting in not much diversity of new varieties produced for evaluation.
Similarly, access to wild types is quite difficult, which is important for breeding for resistance to certain diseases and for nutritional content. In this aspect, somaclonal variation and other techniques are very relevant in creating new diversity.
The work of CePaCT is also central to sourcing new, improved diversity from international agricultural research centre genebanks and imported banana varieties from Bioversity International based in Belgium and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Australia.
CePaCT is actively distributing over 30 banana varieties to Pacific countries for evaluation, and requests are received from countries for selected varieties that grew well in their countries.
SPC is currently a member of BAPNET, actively represented by CePaCT. This collaboration has contributed tremendously to some of the major research developments in the Pacific, mainly in the area of banana collection and conservation through the work of CePaCT.
For more information, please contact Logotonu M. Waqainabete, Acting Curator email:
or Valerie S. Tuia, Coordinator, Genetic Resources, email:
or LRD helpdesk
Photo Captions: Several FOC TR 4 resistant somaclonal variants of Giant Cavendish banana showing vigorous growth in the FOC TR4 infested orchard in TBRI, Pingtung, Taiwan