Scientists in Taiwan and Queensland are collaborating to create banana varieties that can better resist Panama TR4 – a disease that is threatening the banana industry worldwide.

The latest step in the project saw seedlings from 6 varieties of TR4-resistant banana varieties arrive in Brisbane from the Taiwan Banana Research Institute (TBRI) on 15 July.

After a quarantine period, the plants will be grown in disease and agronomic screening trials managed by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) at 3 locations across Australia.

DAF Team Leader for Banana Production Systems Stewart Lindsay said the research process was a long road but very worthwhile.

‘The small clonal plantlets we received from the TBRI will need to be quarantined for 2 years before we can safely begin trials, so it’s not a quick process,’ he said.

‘But Panama TR4 is such a virulent disease, with such potentially devastating outcomes for the banana industry worldwide, that research like this is really critical.’

Mr Lindsay said global collaboration was critical in fighting the disease.

‘DAF and the banana research community in Australia have a long history of close interaction and collaboration with the TBRI,’ he said.

‘They have been at the forefront globally of efforts to develop Cavendish bananas with TR4 resistance for many years.

‘This new collaboration continues the strong relationship we have, with potential benefits in both Australia and Taiwan.’

Panama TR4 is one of the greatest threats to worldwide banana production, and has spread rapidly in Laos, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia, mainland China, the Philippines, Jordan, Mozambique, Pakistan, Lebanon, Oman and India.

It was first detected in Australia near Darwin in 1997 and was found in North Queensland in the Tully Valley in 2015. It is a serious risk to the state’s banana industry, and quarantine and interstate plant movement restrictions are in place to prevent it spreading in Queensland.

Former TBRI Director and now technical consultant Dr Chih-Ping Chao said the institute had been working on disease-resistant varieties using innovative tissue culture techniques, with positive results.

‘Taiwan loves bananas, especially Cavendish bananas, but unfortunately this variety has always been infected by Tropical Race 4, which can attack the banana’s roots and cause the plants not to normally develop,’ he said.

‘We really wanted to collect any disease-resistant commercial varieties available in the world – our researchers and our industry did their best in the past, but they could not collect any one that fits our industry.

‘Fortunately we started to use the tissue culture technique to produce clean seedlings, so that when we release the clean seedlings in the new area, the rate of disease spread would not be as fast.’

Dr Chao said the institute was keen to share the benefits of its research with other countries, and Queensland was a logical choice to conduct the growth trials.

‘We have the chance to sustain our industry in Taiwan and to share our experience with our partners – in Asia or the global community where they need a banana industry,’ he said.

‘Australia is such a wonderful country and also has a Cavendish banana industry that needs to be sustained.

‘And Australia has always been the benchmark in terms of respect for intellectual property.’

Queensland Trade and Investment Commissioner for Taiwan Patrick Hafenstein said TIQ was pleased to provide practical, ongoing support for such important research.

‘In 2018, we facilitated a trip to bring researchers from the Taiwan institute to Queensland so they could learn more about our banana industry and meet their peers in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries,’ he said.

‘More recently, we’ve supported negotiations by helping to coordinate approvals to sign the research agreement across the various departments of Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture.

‘It’s great to see the project take another big step forward with the arrival of the seedlings in Brisbane.’

Queensland is well respected globally for its agricultural research and technology, particularly in tropical environments.

Biotechnology and agtech are identified as emerging export strengths in the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.

If you have a cross-border research concept you think could benefit from TIQ support, contact one of our teams.