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Apr 16, 2009

Australia's GM Banana Project

Photo: Giulio Saggin, ABC, Australia
The Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC)'s online show Catalyst has released an online video documenting the project in North Queensland to gene-modify (GM) bananas.

The lead reporter in the video is Dr Maryanne Demasi who interviews plant geneticist Prof. James Dale.  He described how the bananas are being gene-modified to be virus-resistant to the pathogen fusarium.

Australia has been cultivating bananas in its tropical north for approximately 100 years.  Approximately 95% of the banans grown commercially are of the Cavendish variety.  The other 5% is made of varieties such as Lady Fingers and the Red Daccas.  Approximately, 12.5 to 13.5 thousand hectares of bananas are grown in Australia.

The sorts of bananas we eat, Cavendish bananas, lady finger bananas are essentially sterile. So you don’t see any seeds in those bananas and so it’s extremely difficult to breed conventionally.

Various types of fusarium have been located in Australian plantations.  These must have been imported through infected plant material.  Bananas are sterile so it is hard to cross-bred them for disease resistance.  A virus in a banana plantation poses great risks to the orchard and millions of dollars lost to banana growers.  The fusarium race 1, wiped out the bananas in South and central America in the 1940s. 

Today, the Northern Territory of Australia is facing an outbreak of tropical race four Fusarium Wilt in the Northern Territory.  Scientists at the University of Queensland hope they have found a solution and are eager to harvest their first gene-engineered bananas.

For more see: GM Bananas, Australia Broadcast Corporation (ABC) Television, Catalyst, 16 April 2009. Online video.

Sexton-McGrath, "GM bananas 'flourishing' in north Qld." Australia Broadcast Corporation (ABC) News, 23 April 2009.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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