Queensland scientists tackle global banana disease threat

Published Tuesday, 09 February, 2016 at 03:14 PM

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries
The Honourable Leanne Donaldson

Queensland scientists are tackling one of the world’s worst threats to banana crops – “bunchy top disease” - with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Agriculture Minister Leanne Donaldson said Queensland research could help the rest of the world, aided by a $US5.7 million donation from the philanthropists.

“This new project will strengthen our ability to control and eradicate the disease in Australia and globally and I would like to thank the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for helping us with that goal,” the Minister said.

“Research into the bunchy top virus is another way the Palaszczuk Government is continuing to advance Queensland by supporting our world-class researchers.”

Aphids spread the bunchy top virus, causing stunted plants with ‘bunchy’ leaves at the top and deformed fruit.

It was first identified in Fiji in 1889 and has spread around the world in infected plant material.

“Bunchy top almost wiped out Queensland’s banana industry more than 100 years ago," the Minister said.

“A world-leading containment strategy saved our national banana industry and confined the disease to a small area in southern Queensland and northern NSW."

Associate Professor John Thomas of the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), a partnership between the Queensland Government and The University of Queensland, will lead the program.

“The project will look to south-east Asia, where many bananas and their diseases originate, to identify wild species of seeded bananas which may have natural resistance to bunchy top,” he said.

“Such resistance will help to limit any future outbreaks, safeguarding banana production in Queensland and overseas.”

Dr Thomas said the project would also pilot eradication strategies at the village level to limit the effect and spread of bunchy top in Africa.

“That is where bananas are an important food source for more than 100 million people and a source of income for more than 50 million small holder farmers,” he said.

“The virus is controllable and with considerable effort you can get rid of it in a defined area, but history shows us that once the disease is established in one place it usually stays there, so this work may provide the breakthrough we need to get on top of this disease once and for all.”

The project is due for completion in December 2020.

For more information about QAAFI, visit www.qaafi.uq.edu.au. Follow us on Facebook Queensland Agriculture and Twitter @QldAgriculture.


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