Costa Rica Expects Results on Novel Banana TR4 Fungus


Costa Rica remains on alert for the high risk posed by Fusarium Raza 4 Tropical, a deadly fungus that threatens cavendish bananas and 80% of musaceae families, such as bananas or guineo. That's why national authorities await the results of a new strain that could be resistant to the disease.

This is the case of the technique developed by Dr. Eli Khayat, scientific director of the company Rahan Meristem, who managed to activate a recessive gene of banana that is resistant to the disease, explained Jorge Sandoval research director of the Corporation National Banana (Corbana) to La Nación.

This novel variety of cavendish banana scan is under study in the Philippines - a country suffering from the impact of the pathogen - and the results of the research will be completed in February 2020, Khayat said.

However, the Aspiration of the Israeli scientist is that the modification he made on the fruit is completely resistant to the aggressive fungus that is characterized by producing withering in plants.

The possible arrival of this fungus would hit an industry that provides 40,000 direct and 100,000 indirect jobs, of which 76% are developed in the province of Limón.

Fusarium Race 4 Tropical is pesticide resistant and can last in the soil for more than thirty years. The banana industry accounts for 8.8% of the country's total exports and 42.3% of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP), according to MAG data.

During 2018 the banana area reached 43,050 hectares in production, according to Corbana data published on its website.

"To this day the results are excellent, only less than 1% of the plants were sensitive. The rest has no symptoms and produces a perfect cluster of fruit. The test will continue for six more weeks," Khayat explained.

The scope of the investigation was assessed weeks ago by Marlon Monge, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Corbana's Director of Research, who had a conversation with the Israeli doctor to learn the details of the technical work.

“They presented the investigation; we are interested in a possible solution to the problem but without the final results we cannot decide. We are on the lookout for the process," said the Deputy Minister of Agriculture.

The variety developed by Dr. Khayat could be viable for Costa Rica, Sandoval commented. "They are a possibility that continues to be studied in the countryside in the Philippines. Depending on the genetic stability of these plants, they could be an option," he added.

Despite this first meeting the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) does not yet have estimates as to how much the substitution of plantations for this new variety could amount, should the fungus reach the national soil. This is because the cost has not yet been determined, Khayat confirmed.

The new variety of bananas developed by agro-biotechnology company Rahan Meristem was achieved by a method known as mutation induction, which means that a disease-resistant recessive gene - within the banana genome itself - is activated without transfer any foreign material.

This methodology is not considered transgenic, according to the Israeli scientist.

"As explained and indicated by Dr. Khayat, this product is not defined as transgenic in nature," Sandoval added.

As part of the experiment, hundreds of plants were obtained that were valued in conjunction with Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the results showed that several lines of the plants were resistant.

The offspring were multiplied in vitro and are currently evaluated in the Philippine camps, explained Corbana's research director after attending the meeting.

This is not the only species that the country pays attention to, because for more than a year Corbana analyzes the performance of variety 2-18 in Rita de Guápiles, a cavendish banana that shows some tolerance to the deadly fungus. The exercise is done to assess growth, production and adaptation to the national soil.

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