Experts develop virus resistant abaca cultivars

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Abaca (Musa textile Nee) is a banana-like plant recognized for its strong fiber which is known worldwide as Manila hemp. However, through the years, the abaca viral diseases-bunchy-top virus (ABTV), abaca bract mosaic virus (ABaMV), and abaca mosaic virus (AMV)-have proven to be very persistent and threaten the continued productivity of this Philippine export crop.

Agricultural scientists have been unable to find viable solutions to eradicate the diseases that continually plague the abaca farms. Conventional methods have limitations. Spraying insecticides and herbicides to control vectors and alternate hosts is somehow effective but continued usage is hazardous and have detrimental effects to man and environment.

 

Shoot tips of ‘Abuab’ (left) and ‘Inosa’ (right) cultivar showing the meristematic bud formation after two weeks of incubation. Photo by FIDA

With advances in agricultural biotechnology, genetic engineering, in particular, could be a helpful tool in solving this problem. Thus, the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) embarked on a project that aims to develop virus-resistant abaca cultivars using modern biotechnology. According to Josephine B. Regalado, chief of the FIDA Crop Research Division and main proponent of the project, “developing genetically modified abaca will be an effective method to control the diseases”.

Experts working on the project are Dr. Vermando M. Aquino of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB) in UP Diliman and Dr. Evalour T. Aspuria of the Department of Horticulture in UP Los Baños.

The project is divided into three major phases: 1) molecular cloning, characterization and development of gene-construct and biolistic transformation; 2) development and regeneration system for biolistic-mediated transformation of abaca; and 3) greenhouse characterization and evaluation of genetically modified abaca.

During the first year of the project, ABTV-infected abaca were collected from Albay, Catanduanes, Davao, Laguna, and Leyte. The ABTV genes were then extracted, amplified and cloned. Activities for phase 2 of the project were also initiated. Shoot tip culture from 3-4 month old abaca suckers “Abuab” and “Inosa” (abaca cultivars) were used for the induction of scalp and globule formation which were then used for the establishment of embryonic cell suspension cultures for transformation. All cultures are presently being maintained at the Tissue Culture Laboratory of the Department of Horticulture, Crop Science Cluster of the University of the Philippines Los Banos.

The project is now in its second year wherein DNA sequencing and optimization of culture condition and media formulations for somatic embryogenesis and regeneration are the programmed activities.

This project is funded through the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR). (Edmon B. Agron)

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