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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Bell CA (2021) Next-generation sequencing of the soil nematode community enables the sustainability of banana plantations to be monitored. in Applied soil ecology : a section of Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment

Description We provided a guide that had relevance to those Ugandan researchers developing transgenic plant technology to ensure that an information dossier provided to the National Biosafety Committee of Uganda meets many of its likely requirements. The guide detailed the following areas;
1 International approaches to evaluation of transgenic trait biosafety
2 Food safety and transgenic bananas for Uganda
3 Field evaluation of transgenic bananas
4 Environmental biosafety of transgenic bananas
5 Assessing the benefits of a transgenic trait
6 Commercialised insect resistant maize as a detailed example of international biosafety evaluation processes
7 Comments on a Ugandan Bill relevant to transgenic crops

Next-generation sequencing of the soil nematode community enabled the sustainability of banana plantations to be monitored.
Soil nematodes are well-established as bioindicators of soil quality that can support environmental monitoring and allow assessment of the sustainability of agricultural systems. Recently, molecular approaches based on either taxon-specific PCR primers or next-generation sequencing offer an alternative to laborious and expert-dependent morphological identification of soil nematodes. We have applied next-generation sequencing to assess soil quality of banana plantations in Uganda in order to establish a method for constructing an environmental biosafety dossier with the aim of assessing the impact of transgenic crops. Thirty taxons of nematode were recovered from soil supporting nine banana plantations plus three each from coffee and banana/coffee interplants from East and West Uganda. Soil nematodes were more abundant in soil from coffee plantations than from banana and coffee inter-plantations with the lowest values being from those supporting just banana. Cluster analysis correctly allocated each plantation to the crop being grown when based on the abundance of taxa rather than their incidence. This suggests that there remains a basal abundance of nematode taxa in soil that can be modulated by the crop.
Exploitation Route The guide aimed to underpin development of transgenic traits for cooking banana and plantains in Uganda. It could be used by the National Biosafety Committee of Uganda or any persons/institutions developing new traits in these crops.
Other stakeholders may find the guide of value:they include developers of tissue culture plants for Ugandan growers, those involved in biosafety considerations within the country and politicians seeking detail of international procedures and their application and possible modification to ensure safe deployment of transgenic banana in Uganda.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description We provided a guide to underpin development of transgenic traits for cooking banana and plantains in Uganda. It was restricted to transgenes that have been developed to benefit banana in Uganda. The information the guide contains has relevance to those developing technology to ensure they provide a dossier to the National Biosafety Committee of Uganda that meets many of its likely requirements. Clearly, this committee may seek additional information particularly in relation to the particular trait that is being considered for confined field trials and eventual, unregulated cropping in the country. Most national regulators require the applicant to provide all the information sought by them. Some of this information will have been gained by applicants during development of a novel trait, when seeking consent for confined field trials and subsequently in preparation for unregulated release. In many cases, they also submit information generated by them or others that has been published and often peer-reviewed. The chapters of the guide aim to deliver information on particular aspects of biosafety evaluation. First, international approaches particularly those of USA, Canada and EU are summarised. This is followed by consideration of the food safety of transgenes developed to-date for possible uptake for banana in Uganda. The following chapter considers appropriate field evaluation of such transgenic products both for determining certainty of the benefits and the economic case for deployment.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Policy & public services