Translating nematode resistant banana lines from successful field trials to uptake in Uganda

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Ctr for Plant Sciences


Closing the yield gap of staple crops is a priority for ensuring future world food security. This requires emphasis on cooking bananas in Uganda where 30% of world production occurs. Consumption per capita of this staple crop is the highest globally. Over 80% of the rural population grow the crop with over 99% of it being consumed domestically. An estimated 25% of the Ugandan population is undernourished with a severe global hunger index of 26. The Ugandan population is increasing so rapidly that more than doubling of food production over 25 years is needed to reduce the hunger index.
Cooking banana losses caused by plant parasitic nematodes of greater than 50% per crop cycle have been reported in Uganda by several researchers. There is a lack of current control options. Nematicides are unsuitable for small-scale farmers and are anyway not available in Uganda. Rotational control is inappropriate for a perennial crop. A lack of effective resistance genes and sterility limit progress by conventional breeding, but sterility also prevents gene flow, strongly favouring a transgenic approach.
We have proven that cystatins control plant parasitic nematodes by disrupting their digestion. A second, novel defence is based on a peptide that disrupts location and invasion of host roots by plant parasitic nematodes. Our discoveries have been confirmed for a wide range of crops by other researchers. Efficacy in the field has been proven and the crops have no detrimental impact on the environment and independent food safety trials have shown the products to be completely safe.
Uganda has passed the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill this month (0ctober 2107) that clears the way for large-scale field tests and commercial release of genetically modified crops. Ugandan President Museveni is expected to sign it into law within a month.
There are three main aspects to our proposed project: i) preparing the way for large scale production and distribution of nematode resistant transgenic cooking bananas, ii) developing a dossier of all relevant biosafety information, iii) preparing clear "best practice" guidelines for growers and those carrying out field evaluations of transgenic crops. We will define the needs, time frames and the initial markets to target before the new plants become available to growers. This will involve developing public-private partners and laying down a strategy for increasing plant tissue culture capacity for this vegetative crop to match growing demand. Meetings and dialogue will involve U. Leeds, a panel of African partners and the commercial banana tissue culture companies in Uganda. The country must build a functional biosafety regulatory system to meet farmer demand and ensure complete safety to both human health and the environment. We will support that balanced process by presenting a biosafety dossier developed to-date for nematode resistant banana. Feedback from the committee will identify any additional needs, both for nematode resistance and other traits. The evidence base will be developed to meet the requirements of the National Biosafety Committee. The expectation is that all data for food safety requirements have already been met after evaluation of the anti-nematode resistance by independent evaluations. The environmental data already available will be presented. A methodology for detecting any adverse environmental impacts of any transgenic banana plants on soil health will be translated from UK to Ugandan use to complete the dossier.
A key need defined by the African Development Bank is management of a transgenic crop when grown by small-scale farmers in Africa. This will be met by developing a booklet for growing transgenic banana, building on that prepared by NARO for conventional cultivars. It will draw on past reports and lay down recommended guidelines for any future, other field trial evaluations to ensure reliable proof of efficacy with minimised impact of other biotic or abiotic stress


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