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2-Plants: GE declared as last hope to save the banana

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Enact Biotechnology Law
SOURCE: New Vision, Uganda, Editorial
DATE:   Jan 20, 2003

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Enact Biotechnology Law

Kampala - THE BANANA is facing extinction. The world's most popular fruit
may be no more if its genetic composition does not adapt to changing

New Scientist, a respected international journal, reports one of the
world's leading researchers as saying that the banana could be wiped out
by two fungal diseases that have struck Africa, South America and Asia.

For Uganda, the implications are catastrophic. Our consumption of bananas
is much more than the fruit that much of the world eats as dessert. It is
a staple - the main course, as it were. We cook matooke; we fry, roast
and boil gonja. We also make wine from the Musa varieties, which we then
accompany with Cavendish (bogoya) and the apple banana (ndiizi).

The New Scientist's report is not new. We have already witnessed the
terrible effects of the black sigatoka fungus and the nematode pest that
have been responsible for much of the Buganda geographical area ceasing
to grow matooke in vast quantities. This phenomenon could extend to
Western Uganda, and further aggravate a situation in which we are
producing only about one-tenth of our banana growing potential.

Curiously, we have, at Kawanda, a very extensive banana research project,
which, ideally, should be at the forefront of international
breakthroughs. Granted, Kawanda collaborates with international
researchers; but it is severely held back by the absence of a
biotechnology development law. Partly because of an inordinate fear of
genetic modification, we are yet to enact a law that would give our
researchers a free hand and enhance developments in genetic science. If
we are to meet our full potential, protect our cultural and economic
heritage, and ease the frustrations of our otherwise hardworking
scientists, a law of biotechnological development should be enacted speedily.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  'Decrepit' banana faces extinction in 10 years
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Charles Arthur
DATE:   Jan 16, 2003

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'Decrepit' banana faces extinction in 10 years

The banana could slide into extinction within 10 years because it is
"genetically decrepit", scientists will warn today.

Because edible bananas are sterile mutants, new varieties cannot easily
be produced by natural methods, leaving the fruit vulnerable to attack
from pests and disease.

In the 1950s, the once dominant Gros Michel banana was wiped out by a
disease caused by a soil fungus. Its successor, the Cavendish, is now
threatened by another fungal disease, black Sigatoka. With nothing
readily available to replace the Cavendish, the banana business has
reached crisis point. According to a report in New Scientist magazine
today, it could be gone in 10 years.

"In some ways, the banana today resembles the potato before blight
brought famine to Ireland a century and a half ago," said the magazine.

Wild bananas, called Musa acuminata, contain a mass of hard seeds that
make them virtually inedible. About 10,000 years ago in Asia, stone age
man found a mutant edible variety, without seeds, and grew it using
cuttings from the stems. That means that each banana is virtually
genetically identical - meaning producing new varieties resistant to
pests and diseases is very difficult.

"When some pest or disease comes along, severe epidemics can occur,"
Geoff Hawtin of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute,
based in Rome, told New Scientist.

Emile Frison, head of the International Network for the Improvement of
Banana and Plantain (INIBAP) in Montpellier, France, said banana diseases
were becoming increasingly difficult to control.

"As soon as you bring in a new fungicide, they develop resistance," he
said. "One thing we can be sure of is the Sigatoka won't lose in this battle."

Since starting in Fiji in 1963, Black Sigatoka has spread and has
destroyed most of the banana fields in Amazonia. That could cut
production there by up to 70 per cent, in the world's second-largest
growing area for bananas, after China.

Scientists and planters working on solutions are unable to agree whether
to produce genetically modified bananas, or develop fungicide.

"Biotechnology to produce GM bananas resistant to fungi is expensive and
there are serious questions about consumer acceptance," said David
McLaughlin, senior director of environmental affairs for the banana
company Chiquita.


read more about the banana genome at:
Banana genome to be unravelled
18 July 01
Andy Coghlan


The Global Musa Genomics Consortium will focus on discoveries that will
benefit the smallholders who grow 85 per cent of the world's bananas,
mostly for their own consumption. "One rule of joining the consortium is
that any invention developed through the project and protected [by
patent] will be made available to smallholders through a royalty-free
licence," says Emile Frison, director of the International Network for
the Improvement of Banana and Plantain, the French charity that is the
driving force behind the genome effort.