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Zimbabwe authorizes passage of banana shipments from Mozambique

Thursday, 07 March 2019

The Zimbabwean government has started clearing shipments of green bananas from Mozambique, where TR4 is present, destined for Zambia. The Zimbabwean Department of Plant Quarantine in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Settlement had initially refused passage for fear that it would spread the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish bananas and a wide range of cultivars. The shipments were authorized to go through Zimbabwe after "research [indicated] that green bananas cannot spread [Fusarium wilt]", overlooking the risk posed by the trucks carrying the bananas.

Factors associated with the spread of the causal agent of Fusarium wilt.
Factors associated with the spread of the causal agent of Fusarium wilt.

As the authors of a paper on the epidemiology of Fusarium wilt point out: "Long distance dispersal of Fusarium wilt is mainly due to anthropogenic-related factors." The main ones, including vehicles, are illustrated in Figure 3 of the paper.

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Banana Freckle eradicated from Northern Territory in Australia

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Australia's Northern Territory has been declared free of Banana Freckle.  The proof of freedom was handed down on 1 February 2019.

Banana Freckle. Photo by J. Liberato, DPIF
Banana Freckle. Photo by J. Liberato, DPIF

The fungal strain, Phyllostica cavendishii, had been detected in July 2013. The National Banana Freckle Eradication Program was launched in October 2014 and carried out in four phases over three years.

The Program was Australia’s largest cost-sharing emergency plant pest response under the National Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. Banana growers across Australia funded half of the costs of the Program through a levy.  Funding was also provided by federal and state governments. The Northen Territory's Department of Primary Industry and Resources also provided financial and in-kind support.

The strain, which is capable of infecting Cavendish cultivars, has not been found elsewhere in mainland Australia. Banana freckle will remain a declared pest in the Northern Territory.

Independent review of Biosecurity Queensland's TR4 programme

Friday, 28 December 2018

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has released the review of Biosecurity Queensland's Tropical race 4 (TR4) programme conducted by ACIL Allen Consulting. It had commissioned the independent review to establish on what basis the programme should continue.

The programme started in 2015 as an emergency response to the identification of TR4 in Tully Valley. Once it was established that TR4 could not be eradicated, the programme shifted to control and containment.

The key findings of the review are:
  • The efforts of the programme, government, industry and others have been successful in containing the impact of TR4 to three sites in one location in the Tully Valley;
  • The programme has successfully established arrangements that allow infected properties to continue producing bananas and access/supply their markets;
  • Through “buying time” for industry and regions to adapt to TR4 the estimated net benefit of the programme is $2,126.1 million in 2017-18 dollars which equates to a benefit-cost ratio of 39.2:1;
  • Without the programme it is likely the impact of TR4 will be more widespread and happen sooner; 
  • The programme should therefore continue on the basis the industry and regions benefit from banana production;
  • The programme needs to be placed on a 3-5 year funding and planning horizon to operate effectively; 
  • The current objectives are well constructed reflecting the need to implement activities and simultaneously developing an enduring system with industry to do so; 
  • All the elements are required to deliver on the programme’s objectives and considerable effort has been put in place to develop the policies and procedures to implement them.

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TR4 confirmed in India

Friday, 28 December 2018
States (in red) where TR4 has been observed: 4-Bihar; 27-Uttar Pradesh; 14-Madhya Pradesh and 7-Gujarat.
States (in red) where TR4 has been observed: 4-Bihar; 27-Uttar Pradesh; 14-Madhya Pradesh and 7-Gujarat.

Even though it has been known to be in India since at least 2015, in the State of Bihar, the presence of Tropical race 4 (TR4) in the world's largest producer of bananas had not been officially confirmed. It now has with the posting on 27 November 2018 of a First Report in Plant Disease.

The isolates were collected from symptomatic plants in the State of Uttar Pradesh where, in June 2017, symptoms of Fusarium wilt had been observed on 'Grand Naine' in the Faizabad district. Further surveys confirmed the presence of TR4 in the districts of Kushi Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar.

The fungal strain has also been reported to be in the States of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

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TR4 present in the UK

Friday, 14 December 2018

The British television channel ITV has reported that the fungal disease which has been wreaking havoc in Southeast Asia’s banana plantations and beyond has found a home at the Eden Project’s Rainforest Biome in Cornwall, England. Plant pathologist Dr Rachel Warmington told ITV news that they were surprised to find Fusarium wilt in their banana exhibit, but have since used the  presence of the fungus as an opportunity  for research.

Eden Project's Rainforest Biome. Credit: Eden Project
Eden Project's Rainforest Biome. Credit: Eden Project

Warmington confirmed to ProMusa that the fungus in question is Tropical race 4 (TR4). “It was identified in 2009, when the disease was first observed in the banana exhibit. We changed the plants and the soil, but the fungus reappeared in 2015 in a different part of the biome where there are also banana plants. We removed the affected varieties, 'Pisang mas' and 'Pisang Masak Hijau', a Cavendish cultivar. We also planted Allium tuberosum (Chinese chives) in the affected area to help suppress the disease and limit the impact on the remaining bananas. Eden Project is also collaborating with the University of Exeter on several research projects looking at biocontrol measures."

Warmington added that the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency is aware of its presence, even though it is not a notifiable disease in the UK. “Our protocols for managing the biosecurity around TR4 are the same as our biosecurity measures for the notifiable UK diseases we have on site.”

If TR4 has found its way to the Eden Project, it is possible that it is also present in other European gardens. “It is certainly an indication that the disease is likely to be moving in the amenity horticulture trade and botanic garden collections,” says Warmington.

Fruit certification for TR4-infested farms in Australia

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Biosecurity Queenland announced that it has developed a system of certification for farms infested with Tropical Race 4  (TR4) that meet the requirements for interstate and intrastate quarantine purposes (Inspection of bananas for freedom of soil and plant material). The system allows accredited businesses to certify their fruit consignments without putting the wider industry at risk. Accredited farms will be visited by biosecurity officers to audit the fruit inspection process and ensure that biosecurity requirements are being met.

NPPO declares TR4 eradicated from Israel

Friday, 01 June 2018

In May 2018, Israel's National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) officially declared that Tropical race 4 (TR4), the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in a wide range of bananas, had been eradicated from Israel.

In 2016, symptoms of the disease on the cultivar 'Grande Naine' (a Cavendish type)  were observed by farmers from Shfeya (Carmel coastal plain). Two months later, similar symptoms were also observed by farmers from Kibbutz Ein Gev, along the eastern shores of Lake Galilee. Samples were collected from symptomatic banana plants and sent for diagnosis  to the Plant Protection and Inspection Services of the Ministry of Agriculture.  Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense was isolated from  symptomatic tissues and identified by PCR in July 2016. TR4 was confirmed by sequencing different regions of the genome (28S  ribosomal RNA, a putative pathogenicity protein gene, and TR4 marker genomic sequence). This was the first report of TR4 in Israel.  

The two outbreak areas were confined and placed under strict supervision and surveillance by the Israeli NPPO. The area was fenced and cordoned off. All affected plants were destroyed and irrigation terminated. Intensive surveys in adjacent plots conducted since 2016 did not detect the pathogen and no new incursions have been reported. The NPPO therefore concluded that TR4 had been successfully eradicated.

TR4 spreading in India

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Hindu Business Line reports that Tropical race 4 (TR4), the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish cultivars and a wide range of other types of bananas, has spread alarmingly accross India. First found in 2015 in the state of Bihar, in the northeastern part of the country, it has now spread to the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, on the west coast. The article says that banana farmers in the country are not aware of the serious nature of TR4.

First report of TR4 in Myanmar

Monday, 09 April 2018

For the first time, scientists have been able to infer the origin of incursions of the Tropical race 4 (TR4) fungus that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish bananas, as well as many other types. In a paper published in Frontiers in Plant Science, the scientists not only confirmed the presence of TR4 in Myanmar, they also uncovered molecular evidence that this particular strain, as well as the ones present in Laos and Vietnam, were likely introduced from China. Their analyses also revealed that the TR4 strains in the Philippines and Pakistan are closely related, and that the TR4 incursions in Lebanon and Jordan are associated.

The authors of the paper underscore the need for awareness campaigns and the implementation of validated quarantine measures to prevent further dissemination of TR4.

Third case of TR4 in Queensland, Australia

Thursday, 08 February 2018

The report of a suspected case of Tropical race 4  (TR4) in Queensland, Australia, has been confirmed by Biosecurity Queensland. This is the third such case since the first report of TR4 in Queensland in early 2015. The property on which the fungus was first discovered has since been bought out by the industry and shut down. The second incursion of the disease was found in July 2017 on a property owned by one of the largest growers in the country.

The Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries attributed minimal farm downtime on the third infested property to a prompt response by Biosecurity Queensland officers and the farm already having an established on-farm biosecurity plan.

In Queensland, infested farms must abide by biosecurity protocols to continue trading, which explains why the rate of spread has been extremely slow compared to worlwide experience.

Infected nursery plants suspected in TR4 outbreak

Thursday, 23 November 2017

According to scientists who visited Laos last October, TR4 may have been introduced in the country through infected nursery plants. As reported in The Laotian Times, the scientists spent 3 days surveying plantations of Cavendish plantations along the Vientiane-Vang Vieng road axis. A 45-hectare field established in 2014 for export to China had lost half of its production area due to a severe outbreak of TR4. Chinese managers told the scientists that the disease had appeared soon after planting tissue-culture plants imported from China, where TR4 is present. The scientists suspect that the initial outbreak was due to infected nursery plants imported from China. The presence of TR4 in Laos also threatens the susceptible varieties grown by smallholder farmers and sold in local markets.

Evaluation of TR4-resistant genetically modified Cavendish banana plants

Monday, 20 November 2017

Nature Communications published the results of a field trial of Cavendish banana plants engineered to be resistant to TR4, the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish cultivars. The trial site was a commercial banana plantation in the Northern Territory of Australia where TR4 has become endemic.

Two of the evaluated lines were still free of the disease after three years. One had received a resistance gene isolated from a wild relative of the banana, whereas the other had received an anti-apoptosis gene derived from a nematode.

By contrast, 67%-100% of the control banana plants were either dead or infected by the fungus after three years, including  GCTCV-218. According to the authors, the tissue-culture variant was as susceptible as the Cavendish cultivar Williams.

QUT's press release

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First reports of TR4 in Laos and Vietnam

Thursday, 02 November 2017

Tropical race 4 (TR4) has been reported in Laos and Vietnam, where symptoms typical of Fusarium wilt have been observed as early as 2014.

Laos and Vietnam are two of the countries in the region that have seen a surge in Cavendish plantations set up by Chinese investors to meet the demand for bananas in China, where TR4 is present in all banana-producing regions. The other countries are Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.

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Second TR4 incursion in Australia's Tully Valley

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A vegetative compatibility test confirmed the presence of TR4 on a banana farm in Australia's Tully Valley, the second such confirmation since March 2015. Earlier this month, Biosecurity Queensland had acted swiftly by issuing a biosecurity notice while waiting for confirmation. It was later revealed that the samples came from Australia's largest banana grower, who has indicated that production will continue despite the added costs on operation. The farm's spokesperson is confident that the incursion can be contained.

Addendum: A new case was confirmed on the same farm in July 2018.

Virus-resistant GM banana being trialled in Malawi

Thursday, 27 April 2017
GMO

The Cornell Alliance for Science announced that a banana genetically modified to be resitant to the Banana bunchy top virus is in its first year of confined field trials in Malawi. The banana was developed by Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

TR4-resistant GM bananas to be trialled in Australia

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

ABC Rural announced that Australia's gene technology regulator approved a field trial of genetically modified Grande Naine bananas (a Cavendish cultivar). They were modified to be resistant to the TR4 strain of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, the causal agent of Fusarium wilt, better known as Panama disease.  Four of the lines that were part of a trial that was interrupted when the plants were removed under the Banana Freckle Eradication program will be screened along with new lines.

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Biodegradable bunch covers

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Chemistry students at the University of Costa Rica developed biodegradable bunch covers, for which they won a prize at the Feria de Emprendimiento Desarrollo e Innovación. The main components are plant cellulose, cassava starch and chitin extracted from shrimp shells. The covers are five times more resistant than the conventional ones and are equipped with a system to gradually release pesticides. They take 18 months to disintegrate.

Field trial of Golden Bananas

Monday, 02 January 2017

Genetically modified Dwarf Cavendish plants representing various combinations of transgenes and promoters were field trialed in Australia with the view of transferring the technology to East African highland banana cultivars in Uganda. While none of the lines in the plant crop met the target of 50% of the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for vitamin A in vulnerable populations, 11 lines exceeded the target in the ratoon crop. According to the authors, the results "demonstrate that, rather than there being a reduction of expression with successive vegetative generations as a result of transgene silencing, the trait was stable".

The results were published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

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Is a postharvest disease of banana caused by Fusarium musae a public health concern?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Fusarium musea, a fungus associated with crown rot, a postharvest disease of bananas, has also been implicated in human infections in non-banana producing countries. PLOS pathogens published a Pearl (an article meant for a broader audience than its peer-reviewed papers) which reviews the current state of knowledge and proposes future avenues of research.

Unprecedented banana farm buy-out

Monday, 24 October 2016

In an unprecedented move, the 166-hectare banana farm on which the TR4 fungal strain was detected in March 2015, will be shut down to protect Australia's banana industry now that the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) and the owners of the farm have signed off on the buy-out.

In August 2016, the ABGC, which represents the interests of the country’s commercial banana growers, had received the green light from its members to increase the Plant Health Australia levy from 0.0103 cents per kilogram to 0.5 cents per kilogram to raise 3m AUD that, added to the 1.5m AUD grant from the Federal Government, would be used to buy the farm. But the purchase was put on hold while sick plants in another property were tested for TR4.

On October 21st, the ABGC announced that it would proceed with the buy-out after Biosecurity Queensland revealed that the samples had conclusively tested negative for TR4. Their objective is to destroy all the banana plants, upgrade the fences and establish a ground cover before the wet season, to prevent the spread of the spores by surface run-off.

The farm is located in the northern part of Queensland, where 95% of the country's bananas are grown.

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