Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bicol wild banana variety solves bunchy top problem

A wild banana variety that is endemic to the Bicol region was identified as the solution against the dreaded bunchy top virus that attacks the abaca plant.
The banana variety, which is known as pacol in the local language, was found to possess genes that are resistant to the bunchy top virus.
This conclusion was the result of a collaborative project among agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, University of the Philippines Los BaƱos (UPLB), Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB), Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), and Department of Agriculture-Biotech.
Their project, called “Production of High Yielding and Virus-resistant Abaca Hybrids” makes use of genetic engineering technologies to identify the virus-resistant genes.
Project leader Dr. Antonio Lalusin, Jr. explained that they used molecular markers to take note of which genes of the pacol were resistant to the virus. Once identified, they proceeded with cross-breeding the resistant gene of the pacol with the abaca. Finally, they bred the result with another abaca plant, resulting in a hybrid variety which already possesses the virus-resistant gene.
Lalusin elucidated that the use of genetic engineering methods greatly reduced the time needed to produce the bunchy-top resistant abaca. Compared to conventional breeding methods which take as much as ten years, genetic engineering required only five years or less.
The project seeks to increase the good quality abaca fiber yield by 0.2 MT/hectare, allowing for an estimated Php 579.5 million in revenues.
Beyond the production of the bunchy top-resistant hybrid abaca, the team also aims to produce 2.5 million plantlets in the coming year. Around a million of these plantlets, produced via the process of tissue culture are now being readied in their laboratory and field trial station.
Abaca has massive importance to the Bicol region. According to the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), the region is now the top producer in the entire country, surpassing both Eastern Visayas and Davao in recent years. Bicol contributes 36% to the overall 85% global market share that the nation enjoys. The plant’s fiber is widely known for its great tensile strength, which makes it appropriate for use in products such as bank notes, specialty papers, handicrafts, textiles, and machine filters.

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