Opening of new molecular lab boosts Pacific’s crop research capabilities


The SPC’s Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) programme and partners Manaaki Whenua LandCare Research (New Zealand) opened a new plant molecular laboratory today that is the first of its kind in the Pacific. 

The new molecular lab, opened by New Zealand Ambassador for Climate Change Kay Harrison on the SPC’s Land Resources Division campus in Narere, Fiji, will allow optimisation of diagnostic protocols for health testing, perform health testing for crops of Pacific interest and allow genotyping of crop diversities – a critical step to remove crop redundancies. 

“This new facility will now provide us the opportunity to offer a pathogen diagnostic and genotyping service to the Pacific region,” said Logotonu Meleisea Waqainabete, Programme Leader for Genetic Resources at the Land Resources Division. “These services are in demand, as we already have interest from Pacific countries to support their diagnostics, as well inquiries from partners that would like to develop genotyping projects.”

The facility will build a foundation for CePaCT to become a reference centre for plant diagnostics not only for the Pacific, but worldwide. It will establish CePaCT’s capacity to carry out molecular work, especially pathogen diagnostics and crop genotyping, and also allow CePaCT to perform health tests on its own germplasm collections, guaranteeing the safe exchange of clean and virus-free plant materials to all its users.

Funding for the new facility covers infrastructure upgrades, new equipment, lab consumables and two lab technicians. The lab’s germplasm health testing procedures and processes will use scientifically proven protocols that are consistently updated. These protocols will in part also help to conserve crop and tree collections by removing duplicates and adding missing diversity/gene pools through genotyping.

The lab will ultimately strengthen capacities of Pacific Island Countries and Territories on molecular diagnostics and increase collaborative research with other centres and universities in the region to streamline services.  CePaCT has already brought on board a student that will start an MSc in molecular diagnostics this year.

The lab has been established under the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) funded Pacific Seeds for Life project, with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research the lead partners and SPC's LRD as the implementing partner.