SPC harvests its first tissue culture breadfruit


Photo caption: Tissue culture breadfruit tree of Samoas ma’afala growing in SPC CePaCT regional field genebank bearing fruits

For the first time, scientists at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Suva, Fiji, have harvested the fruits of breadfruit trees which spent part of their life in test-tubes.

A taste-testing of the different breadfruit varieties was carried out by the scientists at SPC’s Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) to see which varieties they preferred and for what reason. The slightly sticky and sweet varieties proved most popular.

The Genetic Resources Coordinator of CePaCT, Valerie Saena-Tuia, said the breakthrough would assist efforts to address food security issues in the Pacific.

"This first batch took about three years to grow from a tissue culture in a test tube to a fruit-producing tree, and the fruit took three months to mature from the flowering stage,” Mrs Saena-Tuia said.

“The trees growing from root suckers also took at least three years to produce fruit ready for consumption.

“We’re happy to finally get some information on the timing for fruit bearing in particular with tissue culture plants, which will help to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge. However, there’s still a lot to learn in terms of which times of year certain varieties bear fruit, which varieties bear fruit all year round, which can tolerate certain diseases and which are drought or heat tolerant," Mrs Saena-Tuia said.

Pacific Island governments want varieties of breadfruit that fruit all year round so that there is a continuous supply, which is vitally important for food security and also for commercial farmers and businesses based on breadfruit products.

From its base in Suva, CePaCT distributes plantlets, or specimens, of breadfruit in sterile bags as well as many other crops to other countries.

The tissue cultures are maintained in strictly controlled laboratory conditions for conservation purposes as long as they survive, as well as for mass-propagation to meet the demand for planting material and food security projects by Pacific countries and project partners.

"When we distribute plantlets to other countries we need to send tissue culture that’s clean of any diseases and viruses, and we need to be able to advise governments how long it will take before the plants bear fruit. This depends on the variety, management practices, location and environmental conditions," Mrs Saena-Tuia said.

CePaCT has distributed breadfruit to several Pacific countries (Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, American Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Marshall Islands) under the conditions of the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

Breadfruit was first established in the laboratory in 2005 as part of the protocol development by CePaCT, and results were presented and published in the first SPC-led International Breadfruit Symposium held in Nadi in 2007.

Further development of the breadfruit protocol using a bioreactor system has facilitated the readiness of plantlets for field planting by about three months, and results were presented and published in the International Horticulture Conference held in Brisbane, Australia, last year.

CePaCT has a regional breadfruit collection, supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust international regeneration project, with a field genebank approved by the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF) for research purposes. The field genebank consists of both root suckers and tissue culture materials.

With support from the current Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (ACIAR PARDI) Pacific breadfruit project piloted in Fiji, SPC works closely with Koko Siga Pacific (a Fiji-based agribusiness consulting firm), Fiji's Ministry of Agriculture, BAF and Nature's Way to evaluate the use of different types of breadfruit planting material, comparing tissue culture material with root suckers and marcotts (airlayers).

The breadfruits are being evaluated for different donor-funded projects implemented by SPC under ACIAR PARDI, the New Zealand Aid Programme, the European Union Global Climate Change Alliance, the Australian Government's International Climate Change Initiative, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Benefit Sharing, and the United Nations Development Programme. The projects target food security, agri-business and building resilience to climate change.

Media contacts: Valerie S. Tuia, Genetic Resources Coordinator, SPC LRD [email protected];

or Arshni Shandil, Research Technician, [email protected];

or [email protected]