Nuclear techniques used to detect and contain disease in bananas
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is helping scientists from six Latin American countries detect and contain one of the world’s most devastating banana diseases, using nuclear and related techniques.
While bananas are the world’s most consumed and exported fruit, they are under threat from Fusarium, or Panama wilt, which is a type of fungus that is carried in the soil and attacks plants. It has now taken hold in Latin America, having already devastated banana crops elsewhere in the world, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.
Of the 155 million metric tons of bananas produced every year, a quarter is threatened by fusarium wilt, according to the IAEA.
However, irradiation – exposing an object to radiation – is widely used in the food industry to safely destroy disease-causing bacteria and control pests without significantly affecting the food’s taste or smell.
To fight the banana disease, irradiation techniques are being used to help develop new disease-resistant crop varieties for farmers, in a process called mutation breeding.
In February, the IAEA trained 12 scientists from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela in mutation breeding. The training also covered tissue culture, developing mutant populations and how to screen crops for disease resistance.
The latest variant of the fusarium wilt disease, called Tropical Race 4 (TR4), can “survive for decades in the soil, making it difficult to control,” the IAEA said. The focus on mutation breeding reflects that developing and deploying “new banana varieties with effective disease resistance” is the only long-term response to the disease.
Bananas provide jobs and nutrition for more than 400 million people globally. In fact, producing bananas is an industry worth $8 billion per year, according to the FAO.
The IAEA will be supporting the affected countries over the next five years in disease detection, surveillance, and containment with the help of nuclear and related technologies.
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