Business Mirror (Philippines)
By Danny O. Calleja / Correspondent
June 24, 2009
http://businessmirror.com.ph

LEGAZPI CITY—Abaca diseases known as the bunchy top and mosaic viruses are persistent and resilient, threatening to wipe out the country’s leading export product known as Manila hemp, that experts are turning to biotechnology for solution.

Genetic engineering would help solve this problem, which is why the Fiber Industry Development Authority (Fida) has embarked on a project aimed at developing virus-resistant abaca cultivars using modern biotechnology, according to its regional director for Bicol Editha Lomerio.

Fida Crop Research Division head Josephine Regalado believes that developing genetically modified plants would be an effective method to control the diseases and allow continued abaca productivity, Lomerio said.

“Abaca provides jobs and livelihood to hundreds of thousands of farmers and industrial workers in the country, that is why the government is hell-bent on preserving and developing this industry that is a leading dollar earner for the country,” she said.

It generates about $80 million annually as the Philippines supplies 85 percent of abaca in the world market. As of 2008, abaca was cultivated in about 140,000 hectares in 52 provinces.

Lomerio said the demand for abaca pulp and fiber is expected to increase as more countries shift to the use of natural fibers in their bid to eliminate dependence on materials that use fossil fuels. Car manufacturers use abaca as composite material for interiors and automotive parts.

Experts working on the abaca biotechnology project are Dr. Vermando Aquino of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman and Dr. Evalour Aspuria of the Department of Horticulture in UP Los Baños (UPLB).

It is funded through the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).

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

During the first year of the project, bunchy top or ABTV-infected abaca samples were collected from Albay, Catanduanes, Davao, Laguna and Leyte. ABTV genes were extracted, amplified and cloned, Lomerio said.

ABVT was first detected way back in 1915 in Silang, Cavite, and in 1937 in Davao province. It wiped out plantations with a total area of 12,000 hectares in Laguna, Batangas and Cavite before spreading to the Bicol region and down to the Eastern Visayas.

The disease is transmitted by an aphid vector, called Pentalonia nigronervosa. An abaca infected with ABTV has yellowish-white, chlorotic areas on lamina margins of unfurled leaf while its mature leaves turn dark green, stiff, narrow, erect and necrotic.

Its petioles begin to rise from the same plant at the upper end of the stem- like part which results in a rosette or bunchy appearance, hence called bunchy top. Infected plants may remain alive for years but they gradually become smaller until their leaves and leaf sheaths turn brown and die.

Agricultural engineers were rendered helpless by the disease as conventional methods of control proved to be ineffective and the use of chemicals hazardous to both humans and the environment.

UP has been at the forefront of abaca research to address this concern since the 1950s but was stopped in the 1960s by lack of funds. After two decades, abaca research in UPLB sprung back with the Institute of Plant Breeding-Crop Science Cluster (CSC-IPB) starting the abaca-breeding program in 1981.

For the second phase of the new biotechnology project, shoot tip culture from three- to four-month-old abaca suckers, known as “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 CSC-IPB in UPLB.

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

In another development, Dr. Antonio Lalusin of the CSC-IPB has developed abaca varieties that possess important fiber characteristics vital to the industry and, more important, have built-in resistance to ABTV.

Lalusin in a statement said these abaca varieties have high yielding potential, high degree of uniformity and superior strength and consistency in its fiber properties that hew to industrial standards.

He said that in the past, most varieties that IPB developed had resistance to the virus but had very poor or low quality fiber.

However, Lalusin said he found six best abaca varietal hybrid selections from several backcrossing of wild banana and abaca.

The varieties have the best qualities of an abaca such as above-average fiber strength, fiber length, fiber recovery (the characteristic of the fiber to retain as many amount of fiber after it has been dried), and plant height, he said.

They are very good sources of fiber for papermaking. Prototypes of papers produced and tested by the Forest Products Research and Development Institute using the fibers from the hybrid variety was of high quality, Lalusin said.

This discovery brings high hopes that hybrid plants will benefit abaca farmers and eventually help save the country’s abaca industry from extinction, he added.LEGAZPI CITY—Abaca diseases known as the bunchy top and mosaic viruses are persistent and resilient, threatening to wipe out the country’s leading export product known as Manila hemp, that experts are turning to biotechnology for solution.

Genetic engineering would help solve this problem, which is why the Fiber Industry Development Authority (Fida) has embarked on a project aimed at developing virus-resistant abaca cultivars using modern biotechnology, according to its regional director for Bicol Editha Lomerio.

Fida Crop Research Division head Josephine Regalado believes that developing genetically modified plants would be an effective method to control the diseases and allow continued abaca productivity, Lomerio said.

“Abaca provides jobs and livelihood to hundreds of thousands of farmers and industrial workers in the country, that is why the government is hell-bent on preserving and developing this industry that is a leading dollar earner for the country,” she said.

It generates about $80 million annually as the Philippines supplies 85 percent of abaca in the world market. As of 2008, abaca was cultivated in about 140,000 hectares in 52 provinces.

Lomerio said the demand for abaca pulp and fiber is expected to increase as more countries shift to the use of natural fibers in their bid to eliminate dependence on materials that use fossil fuels. Car manufacturers use abaca as composite material for interiors and automotive parts.

Experts working on the abaca biotechnology project are Dr. Vermando Aquino of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman and Dr. Evalour Aspuria of the Department of Horticulture in UP Los Baños (UPLB).

It is funded through the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).

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

During the first year of the project, bunchy top or ABTV-infected abaca samples were collected from Albay, Catanduanes, Davao, Laguna and Leyte. ABTV genes were extracted, amplified and cloned, Lomerio said.

ABVT was first detected way back in 1915 in Silang, Cavite, and in 1937 in Davao province. It wiped out plantations with a total area of 12,000 hectares in Laguna, Batangas and Cavite before spreading to the Bicol region and down to the Eastern Visayas.

The disease is transmitted by an aphid vector, called Pentalonia nigronervosa. An abaca infected with ABTV has yellowish-white, chlorotic areas on lamina margins of unfurled leaf while its mature leaves turn dark green, stiff, narrow, erect and necrotic.

Its petioles begin to rise from the same plant at the upper end of the stem- like part which results in a rosette or bunchy appearance, hence called bunchy top. Infected plants may remain alive for years but they gradually become smaller until their leaves and leaf sheaths turn brown and die.

Agricultural engineers were rendered helpless by the disease as conventional methods of control proved to be ineffective and the use of chemicals hazardous to both humans and the environment.

UP has been at the forefront of abaca research to address this concern since the 1950s but was stopped in the 1960s by lack of funds. After two decades, abaca research in UPLB sprung back with the Institute of Plant Breeding-Crop Science Cluster (CSC-IPB) starting the abaca-breeding program in 1981.

For the second phase of the new biotechnology project, shoot tip culture from three- to four-month-old abaca suckers, known as “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 CSC-IPB in UPLB.

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

In another development, Dr. Antonio Lalusin of the CSC-IPB has developed abaca varieties that possess important fiber characteristics vital to the industry and, more important, have built-in resistance to ABTV.

Lalusin in a statement said these abaca varieties have high yielding potential, high degree of uniformity and superior strength and consistency in its fiber properties that hew to industrial standards.

He said that in the past, most varieties that IPB developed had resistance to the virus but had very poor or low quality fiber.

However, Lalusin said he found six best abaca varietal hybrid selections from several backcrossing of wild banana and abaca.

The varieties have the best qualities of an abaca such as above-average fiber strength, fiber length, fiber recovery (the characteristic of the fiber to retain as many amount of fiber after it has been dried), and plant height, he said.

They are very good sources of fiber for papermaking. Prototypes of papers produced and tested by the Forest Products Research and Development Institute using the fibers from the hybrid variety was of high quality, Lalusin said.

This discovery brings high hopes that hybrid plants will benefit abaca farmers and eventually help save the country’s abaca industry from extinction, he added.

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