SPLS Tuesday Seminar - Bananas, a major global food crop in crisis - Panama disease & biotechnological innovations

James Dale, Distinguished Professor
Queensland University of Technology
Tuesday, October 25, 2022 - 4:00pm
https://arizona.zoom.us/j/83941552191 password: spls2022 A live broadcast will be available in Marley 230

This presentation will be presented via Zoom: https://arizona.zoom.us/j/83941552191 password: spls2022 
A live broadcast will be made available in Marley 230
Bananas, a major global food crop in crisis – Panama disease & biotechnological innovations
Bananas are one of the top 10 world food crops usually ranking around sixth. There are probably more than 1000 different banana cultivars and landraces; however, more than 50% of the bananas grown in the world are just one cultivar, Cavendish, which also accounts for more than 99% of export bananas. Cavendish is a true heritage “variety” as it is probably more than 1000 years old. It was a selection of a naturally occurring hybrid and has never been genetically improved, until now. Over the last 30 years, Cavendish production has been threatened by a deadly soil borne fungus, Fusarium oxysporum fsp cubense tropical race 4 which causes ‘Panama Disease’ or ‘Fusarium wilt’. The disease and the fungus are spreading around the banana world. The options for control are limited, but include genetic modification and gene editing. The Dale lab has developed a GM line of Cavendish, which exhibits high-level immunity to Panama Disease. But will the banana consumers accept it?
Biosketch - Dr. / Prof James Dale, Queensland University of Technology
Dr. Dale completed his BSc. Agr. (Hons) and Ph.D. through the Faculty of Agriculture, The University of Sydney, graduating in 1976. After a period in Europe and then in the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, he joined Queensland University of Technology in 1988 where he initiated the current program focused on banana improvement. At QUT, he was Head of the School of Life Sciences and currently, is the founding director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities. He was the founder of Australia’s first molecular farming company, Farmacule Bioindustries, which later merged to become the ASX listed Leaf Resources. Presently, Dr. Dale heads the Banana Biotechnology Research Program at QUT.
His research interests and activities are centred on the genetic improvement of bananas through genetic modification and more recently genome editing. Three projects are through initial field trial selection.
1.      In 2005, his group was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health to develop cooking bananas in Uganda and East Africa with high levels of pro-vitamin A as a strategy to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, a major cause of blindness in East Africa.  The most advanced project, the “Golden Banana” project, is to alleviate vitamin A deficiency in Uganda and surrounding countries by developing cooking bananas with high levels of pro-vitamin A. These “golden bananas” are entering regulatory field trials this year in Uganda with a planned release date of 2022. Those bananas are now in final stages of field trialling with likely release to Ugandan farmers in 2024.
2.      In the early 2000s, he and his team began an R&D program to develop Cavendish bananas that are resistant to Panama Disease (Fusarium wilt) tropical race 4. This devastating disease has spread to all the major banana producing continents and is the greatest threat to the world export banana industry as well as local production e.g. Australia, both Queensland and the Northern Territory. The program has now produced a line of genetically modified Cavendish bananas that is immune to the disease. The Cavendish banana has been engineered to contain a disease resistance gene from a wild banana and trialed these for resistance to TR4 in the Northern Territory and have four lines with high TR4 resistance. The project has nearly completed stage 2 field trials in the Northern Territory. The target population for these bananas is 125 million people. Recently, the lab has developed a platform technology to produce non-GM gene edited Cavendish with TR4 resistance as the initial target.
3.      The banana bunchy top virus resistance project has progressed through to initial field trials in Malawi also with promising results.
James and his program are expanding their R&D interests focussing on preserving the wonderful genetic diversity of bananas which is currently under threat from several important diseases.
James has received a number of prestigious awards:
Officer of the Order of Australia 2004, Time Magazine’s top 25 Inventions of 2014, Queensland Great 2015, Queensland Senior Australian of the Year 2019, and Companion of the Order of Australia 2022