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Banana and plantain (Musa spp.) are grown in more than 120 countries throughout the world. They are cheap to produce, grow in a range of environments, and produce fruit year-round. Most bananas don't produce seed, and are propagated vegetatively. Conventional breeding methods have been of limited success in Musa species. Some banana cultivars are too tall and prone to wind damage; others are late in maturity or susceptible to pests and diseases. Outbreaks of black and yellow Sigatoka and Fusarium wilt in many parts of the world have become a serious threat to the sustained cultivation and production of bananas and plantains. Black Sigatoka disease alone can result in up to 70% banana yield losses, endangering the survival of banana and plantain crop.

Radiation induced mutations in combination with tissue culture can improve the yield, quality and disease resistance of established cultivars, and would result in an increased and sustainable production. The technology for multiplication of banana and plantain through micropropagation and other related in vitro culture techniques including in vitro selection for disease resistance is well developed. In addition, molecular techniques (e.g. RAPD, AFLP) can be used to obtain precise information on the genes involved in the traits under selection.

In order to address problems facing banana and plantain cultivation, the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section of the Joint Division FAO/IAEA started a Coordinated Research Project (CRP) entitled "Cellular biology and biotechnology including mutation techniques for creation of new useful banana genotypes" in 1994. Its general aim was to integrate radiation induced mutations, in vitro culture and molecular genetics methods into the conventional breeding of banana and plantain to induce desirable variation such as disease resistance, dwarfism and earliness and also to promote the development of methods for large-scale and rapid multiplication of the mutants/segregants through somatic embryogenesis and micropropagation. The CRP was also aimed at promoting the transfer of technologies to developing countries for genetic improvement of banana and plantain as well as other vegetatively propagated fruit crops.

In 1996 the Belgian Administration for Development Cooperation (BADC), now known as Directorate-General for Development Cooperation, agreed to fund this CRP. Since then, 4 Research Co-ordinated Meetings (RCM) were held in different countries including Austria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Belgium, establishing strong bonds among participants from both developed and developing countries. In addition, the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP), a program of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) supplied plant material and facilitated the links with breeding programs and germplasm evaluation trial sites worldwide. This was essential for promoting exchange of information and genetic material, technology transfer and manpower training in order to develop new research projects leading to socio-economic improvement of the rural farmers.

Additionally, scientists from participating countries benefited by receiving training on several aspects of banana and plantain genetic improvement and young students completed their Masters and Ph.D. programs. Twenty-two banana breeders received training on several aspects of banana tissue culture, molecular cytogenetics and molecular markers and 14 young students completed their Masters and Ph.D. programs in Israel, Czech Republic, and Belgium. A total of 51 research papers were published in conference proceedings and international refereed journals. Also, in Sri Lanka, 20 persons from rural areas were given training in tissue culture technology for mass production of banana. Post-graduate training on indexing of banana viruses was also organized.

FAO/IAEA and INIBAP decided to publish the results obtained during this CRP, together with several review papers, with the aim of providing state of the art information on a number of biotechnological tools for adoption by breeders and molecular biologists to obtain Musa varieties with desirable characters in a more rapid and efficient way. These include cryopreservation and somatic embryogenesis to allow maintenance and propagation of Musa germplasm; induced mutagenesis; and somaclonal variation and genetic engineering to generate genetic variation. Screening techniques were developed to obtain disease (Fusarium wilt, black Sigatoka) and nematode resistant plants, while induction of mutations resulted in several improved clones with characters such as reduced height, earliness, large fruit size, and tolerance to black Sigatoka disease. DNA flow cytometry enabled ploidy and the genome size of Musa genotypes to be determined and was also used to monitor cytochimera dissociation and chromosomal stability, while, molecular marker technology was integrated into Musa breeding programs in order to allow researchers to access, transfer and combine genes at a rate and with a precision not previously possible.

This reference book will be of great use to international researchers engaged in banana genetic improvement for enhanced food security, nutrition, and employment generation.

James Dargie
FAO/IAEA Joint Division
International Atomic Energy Agency
Vienna, Austria

Emile Frison
Director General
International Plant Genetic Resources
Institute (IPGRI)
Rome, Italy

This group photo was taken of participants during the final FAO/IAEA Research Coordination Meeting (RCM) of banana CRP entitled "Cellular Biology and Biotechnology Including Mutation Techniques for Creation of New Useful Banana Genotypes", September 24-28 September 2001, Leuven, Belgium.

Left to right

1st row: I. Van den Houwe, K. Hirumburegama, B. Panis, E. Khayat, S. Mohan Jain, J. Dolezel, A. James, G. Kahl, A. Elsen, N. Roux, J.P. Busogoro, R. Swennen.

2nd row: H. Strosse, J. Lopez Torres, D. Hautea.

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