[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 02 July 2009 10:18
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 81: Sri Lanka - Banana - Induced mutation and micropropagation

I am Ranjith Pathirana, formerly Professor of Agricultural Biology at the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka. In 1999 I did a Scoping Study on Agricultural Biotechnology in Sri Lanka and served as a consultant to the Atomic Energy Authority, Sri Lanka to evaluate some IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) funded projects. Currently I am attached to Plant and Food Research, New Zealand but keeping in touch with some ongoing projects in Sri Lanka.

Banana is the most widely cultivated and consumed fruit in Sri Lanka. Banana has an advantage over rice because of higher income generated and lesser dependence on seasonal labour, hard to find in rural areas. Net income from banana is almost four times that of rice in lands with limited water supply. Therefore, many rice lands that did not receive sufficient water for paddy cultivation have been successfully brought under banana since late 1980s, especially in the South, South-East and North-Central Provinces. The total area under banana is estimated at 55,000 ha with a production of 500,000 MT. To facilitate the production of planting material to meet the demand, a micropropagation facility was established in Weligatta in Southern Sri Lanka by the University of Colombo. Under a FAO/IAEA Technical Co-operation programme, Colombo University was equipped to undertake basic virology research as virus-free planting material was a basic requirement.

Mysore type (AAB group) bananas are the most popular in Sri Lanka. The other type widely cultivated is Cavendish (AAA Group). Concurrently with micropropagation and planting, a mutation induction programme was undertaken to develop early maturing banana clones. This programme resulted in the development of an early flowering and high yielding clone of Mysore (Embul) banana. This clone, developed by gamma irradiation of in vitro shoot tips, was micropropagated and established in the M1-V8 generation in two contrasting agro-ecological regions: Hambantota (Low-country dry zone) and Ratnapura (Mid-country Wet Zone). In both regions, the micropropagated mutant clone flowered earlier (6 months as opposed to 8 months) than the control mother plants.

Another advantage of using the micopropagated mutant banana was that the material had been tested free of Banana Bract Mosaic Virus (BBrMV), which significantly reduces yield in infected plants. The scientists involved in the project (Prof Kshanika Hirimburegama and Dr Kumar Hirimburegama) held many field days to inform farmers how to care the micropropagated plants in the early period of growth, which was crucial for the success of the project. An estimated 25% increase in annual income has been attributed to intensification of production cycle through early maturing mutant banana cultivar. Micropropagated banana is now common and popular among farmers and is encouraged by the Government authorities including the Department of Agriculture and Mahaweli Authority.

Dr. Ranjith Pathirana
Scientist (Plant Tissue Culture and Transformation)
Food Industry Science Centre
New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research
Private Bag 11 600
Palmerston North
New Zealand
Phone: Direct Dial +64 6 355.6169; 6194
Reception +64 6 356 8300
Mobile +64 212078231
Fax: 0064 6 351 7050
Email: pathiranar (at) crop.cri.nz

Publications related to the project:

- Annual Report 2000. Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
- Annual Report 2001. Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
- Hirimburegama K 1996. Plant biotechnology and agriculture in Sri Lanka. Proc. Sri Lanka Assoc. Adv. Sci. 52: 49-64.
- Hirimburegama K and Gamage N 1997. Cultivar specificity with respect to in vitro micropropagation of Musa spp. (banana and plantains). J. Hort. Sci. 72: 205-211.
- Hirimburegama, W. K., Dias, W. K. G., Hirimburegama, K. 2004. Banana improvement through gamma irradiation and testing for banana bract mosaic virus in Sri Lanka. In: Jain, S. M., Swennen, R. (Eds.) Banana improvement: cellular, molecular biology, and induced mutations. Proceedings of a meeting held in Leuven, Belgium, 24-28 September 2001. http://www.fao.org/docrep/007/ae216e/ae216e09.htm
- Laksiri B.D.P and Hirimburegama K 1999 Banana improvement in Sri Lanka through radiation induced mutation and tissue culture. Proc. Third FAO/IAEA Research Coordination Meeting, Colombo, 4th-8th October, 1999.
- Pathirana R 1999 Banana improvement project at the University of Colombo: an appraisal. A report submitted to the Atomic Energy Authority of Sri Lanka, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 02 July 2009 11:11
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 82: India - micropropagation - GM crops

I am R. Keshavachandran, Professor at the Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Molecular Biology, Kerala Agricultural University, Vellanikkara, Thrissur, Kerala, India.

I have been following the messages sent by many colleagues on various aspects of agricultural biotechnology with a great deal of interest. At our Centre we have standardised protocols for micropropagation of various spice crops, endangered medicinal plants, worked on secondary metabolite production including on hairy root induction on medicinal plants, identified stress tolerant somaclones, worked on molecular markers for genetic analysis as well as standardised protocols for genetic transformation of spice crops.

The satisfaction is enormous when there is a great demand for quality planting material produced through in vitro culture in crops like banana, black pepper. However, there is a sense of disquiet in working on genetic transformation of crops in a developing country like ours where there is widespread opposition by different groups against use of GM crops. Though there are regulations and regulatory bodies to oversee the commercialisation of these crops, why is it that there is so much opposition even though everyone agrees the technology is excellent. There is a huge cost involved in testing of these crops before commercialisation beyond the scope of individual players. So is the end justifying the means? It is an open question.

Secondly, I have been working on reducing costs of tissue culture propagation and am familiar with the IAEA publication pointed out by E.M. Muralidharan in Message 63. I would be glad to know of initiatives in this regard in other countries

Dr. R. Keshavachandran
Professor, Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Molecular Biology
Coordinator, Bioinformatics Centre,
Kerala Agricultural University,
IT-BT Complex, Vellanikkara
Thrissur- 680 656,
Kerala
India
Ph: 0487-2371994(O); 2362808 (R)
Fax: 0487-2371994
Mobile: 09388987121
rkeshavachandran (at) gmail.com

[1. The publication referred to above is on 'Low cost options for tissue culture technology in developing countries' (http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/te_1384_web.pdf
2. Regarding the comments on GMOs above, I wish to remind participants that, as mentioned in Section 3.3 of the Background Document, discussion in the conference should not consider the issues of whether GMOs should or should not be used per se or the attributes, positive or negative, of GMOs themselves. Instead, the goal is to bring together and discuss specific experiences of applying biotechnologies (including genetic modification) in the past in developing countries...Moderator].

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 02 July 2009 11:35
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 83: Re: The pursuit of academic butterflies

I am David Jordan, Principal Sorghum Plant Breeder for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries in Australia. I work as a practicing plant breeder and lead projects in molecular marker development and utilization.

I agree strongly with many of the comments made by Denis Murphy (Message 80) and others about the gap between basic and applied research. In both developed and developing countries the approach to the development and implementation of biotechnologies is often driven by technology or basic research agendas rather than being aimed at solving applied problems. In many cases this leads to the potential impact of technologies being oversold resulting in inappropriate choices of technologies and misallocation of applied research resources. These negative impacts are often exacerbated by the redirection of research efforts to the next technology before the previous technology is implemented. Molecular marker technology has great potential to improve genetic gain in plant breeding programs but it also provides many examples of these types of problems. I suspect that in many cases the lack of motivation among breeders to use molecular marker technology mentioned in a previous posting is a result of a not unreasonable scepticism about the value of deploying such technologies within their programs. [The posting referred to is probably that by PK Gupta (nr. 2) who noted that some success had been achieved in India in the development and use of marker-assisted selection (MAS) in crops; briefly described some varieties that had been developed with MAS; and, finally, wrote that the reasons for slow pace of work in the use of molecular markers "involve lack of expertise and motivation with those involved in breeding, and lack of cooperation between molecular biologists and plant breeders. The economics involving the use of marker technology in plant breeding (relative to conventional plant breeding) is another reason for not adopting this technology"...Moderator].

In my experience, marker technology works well if:

1) the people tasked with solving the problem (in this case the breeders) have the appropriate skills, understand the technology well and are involved in developing the technology for a particular application. It also helps if the biotechnologists have some understanding of plant breeding.

2) there is an appropriate balance between the investment in traditional disciplines (breeding, pathology, physiology etc) and marker technology,

3) the associated disciplines such as statistics and informatics have been sufficiently enhanced to support the use of marker technology by breeders and

4) the decisions about resource allocation in the applied program are made in a rational way based on the true costs and returns involved

In my limited experience of developing country plant breeding programs it appears that the investment in conventional plant breeding and related disciplines is often insufficient to allow technologies like markers to be used effectively. In many cases much greater improvements could be made in genetic gain by enhancing the conventional breeding program rather than investing in marker technology even if investment in the applied program is maintained. Like Denis Murphy I think the only solution is to enhance the flow of money and status to the applied disciplines so that the potential gains from biotechnological tools can be realized.

Dr David Jordan
Principal Sorghum Plant Breeder and Sorghum Team Leader
Plant Science Industry Services
Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries
Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation
Australia
Telephone 61 7 4660 3622 Facsimile 61 7 4660 3600
Mobile 0429 457846
Website www.dpi.qld.gov.au
Call Centre 13 25 23
Email: David.R.Jordan (at) deedi.qld.gov.au

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 02 July 2009 17:24
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 84: Re: The pursuit of academic butterflies

This is Worku Damena Yifru, again, from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

I also agree with most of the comments by Denis Murphy, (Message 80).

With the emergence and expansion of modern biotechnology which has almost exclusively become a private sector domain, public sector researchers have started to feel that their role is to deal with the basic science, pure academic research. In their view, commercialisation is the responsibility of others who are enjoying intellectual property rights protection. They believe that field applications are not their concern. These days, public researchers focus on research that has more of a career reward than socio-economic benefits for the public at large.

Given the current trend, the crops or traits that are critically important for the more marginal poor farmers and those improvements needed for the tropical dryland areas are getting less attention - the so called 'orphan crops', for instance. There is an increasing shift in research and funding emphasis from food crops to export-oriented ones. In development terms, however, there seems to be no data supporting that such focus on high value 'designer' crops has generated a positive impact on poverty reduction.

National governments in developing countries and their international partners need to work towards revitalizing applied research in the public sector if they wish to see a pro-poor agricultural biotechnology developed side by side with company-driven high-tech products. Instead of relying on a possible trickle-down effect of the latter, in the short and medium term, a public sector R and D with a clear agricultural agenda and target might be a better policy for many developing countries.

Worku Damena Yifru (Mr.)
Programme Officer, Policy and Legal, Biosafety Division,
Secretariat, Convention on Biological Diversity
United Nations Environment Programme
413 Saint-Jacques, Suite 800, Montreal, Quebec
H2Y 1N9 Canada
Tel: (514) 287 7006
Fax: (514) 288 6588
E-mail: worku.yifru (at) cbd.int


Return to Archives of this conference or go to the main Forum pages. Note: you must join the Forum to participate in these discussions.