Disease resistant bananas key to industry’s survival

Two world renowned scientists have told delegates at the 2017 Australian Banana Industry Congress, that developing disease resistant banana varieties is key to the long term survival of the industry.

Dr Frédéric Bakry of France and American Professor Randy Ploetz addressed the biennial conference in Sydney last Thursday, presenting their insights into the latest international findings on banana disease management and the release of new dessert banana hybrids resistant to Panama and Leaf Spot diseases.

Their ground breaking research has focussed specifically on banana plant health and finding future resistance to Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4).

Dr Bakry said breeding of disease resistant bananas was only in its infancy and there were “no limits” to what Australian researchers could achieve in a focussed breeding program.

Australian banana researchers and scientists are recognised as world leaders in the fight to contain and manage Panama TR4, believing there is no single solution.

Their integrated research approach has included developing effective science based on-farm biosecurity practices; developing tools for early detection; seeking a better understanding of the epidemiology of the disease; understanding how plant stress influences the disease; and developing varieties of banana plants that have improved tolerance and resistance to TR4.

Professor Ploetz told delegates at the Congress that his most recent studies had focussed on knowing more about Panama TR4 as a pathogen.

He said the more that industry knew about how the disease was caused and spread, the better equipped it would be to protect Australia’s banana growing regions and limit future TR4 spread.

“People have forgotten that once you have this disease in the area, the only way to solve the problem is to produce disease resistance in plants,” Professor Ploetz said.

“Creating a plant with the appropriate disease resistance requires that rudimentary knowledge of the disease itself.

“We have previously only had primitive research tools that we can use in the assessment of Panama TR4 – we need to develop those tools to learn more about it, so we can manage it.”

Australian Banana Growers’ Council R & D Manager Dr Rosie Godwin spent the past week with Dr Bakry and Professor Ploetz travelling the North Queensland banana production area, meeting local scientists and giving the visiting researchers an insight into Australian banana production and biosecurity practices.

“The banana industry is fortunate to have significant investment in fundamental and applied research projects which are targeted at finding solutions to the many pest and disease threats the industry faces,” Dr Godwin said.