The Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy’s Banana Biotechnology Program is a global leader in agricultural technology innovations, specifically centring on the genetic improvement of bananas, one of the top 10 world food crops. It brings together recent advances in banana genomics and molecular breeding to provide real world solutions to the banana industry globally. The program’s flagship research includes projects in disease resistance, predominantly in the areas of Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4) and Banana bunchy top disease. The program is also strongly focussed on solving nutritional and food security-related problems affecting developing countries especially in sub-Saharan Africa, most notably the development of our East African Highland Bananas (EAHB) with high levels of pro-vitamin A.
What we do
The Banana Biotechnology Program have been transforming bananas for more than 25 years at QUT.
In 2004, the Banana Biotechnology Program was successful in obtaining an ARC Discovery Grant to mine for potential TR4 resistance genes in banana germplasm that had been demonstrated to be resistant to TR4. One gene, which we now call RGA2 was transformed into Cavendish Grand Nain bananas under the control of the Nos promoter. The resulting transgenic lines could not be glasshouse screened for TR4 resistance in Brisbane due to biosecurity restrictions, so 2011, funded by an ARC Linkage Grant in collaboration with Premier Fresh Australia, we commenced a field trial in the Northern Territory on a plot that had previously grown a TR4 decimated Cavendish crop. A significantly larger trial at the same site was planted in early 2018. After 2.75 years, one line, RGA2-4, has no infected plants and a second line, RGA2-3, has only 2% infection compared with the direct controls of over 50% infection. RGA2-4 has no significant yield drag and we are progressing this line through to commercial release in Australia.
The Banana Biotechnology Program have considerable experience with manipulating banana fruit characteristics as a consequence of our 15-year program to develop cooking bananas with high levels of fruit pro-vitamin A which is now in its final field trial stage. This has required manipulating the carotenoid pathway in banana fruit to upregulate specific genes.
The Banana Biotechnology Program have developed extensive genomic resources including both genomic sequences and transcriptomes. Further, we have demonstrated the ability to interrogate these sequences to identify candidate genes to manipulate in order to confer disease resistance or enhanced agronomic qualities.
The Banana Biotechnology Program have extensive experience in designing, managing, and assessing field trials of genetically modified bananas. GM field trials in Australia and elsewhere are conducted under strict regulatory guidelines. In Australia, the regulatory authority is the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). OGTR comes under the Australian Government Department of Health and has oversight of all dealings involving genetically modified organisms. For plant biotechnology, it regulates dealings from laboratory to glasshouse to field trial and finally to commercial release. The Banana Biotechnology Program at QUT has already conducted five GM banana field trials in Australia, three disease trials and two fruit quality (biofortification) trials under OGTR DIR (Dealings Involving Intentional Release) licenses. These have all been conducted without any negative incidents and have required regular and extensive monitoring and assessment. All the trials have been physically remote from QUT. Further, we have been actively involved in five biofortification field trials in Uganda and one BBTV resistance field trial in Malawi.
Our research program team is currently working on the following projects.
The Banana Biotechnology Program currently has active and extensive collaborations with Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc and Hort Innovation Australia for fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4) resistance, and National Agricultural Research Organisation of Uganda for micronutrient biofortification of cooking bananas for East Africa. Previous collaborations included projects in Malawi, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and USA.
The Banana Biotechnology Program students who have completed their PhD or MSc studies within the Centre have come from wide-ranging and diverse backgrounds including Australia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Tahiti, Taiwan, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
We greatly appreciate the commitment and excellent support from:
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc
- Australian Banana Research Pty Ltd
- Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) Grants
- Horticulture Innovation Australia
- Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship Program
- Premier Fresh Australia
- Australian Research Council
- UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (DFID)