BananaTR4 project

Samantha Cullen Technical Officer Plant Pathology

Tropical Race 4 Panama disease collaborative research in the Northern Territory (NT)

Panama disease is a highly destructive disease caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (FOC). Four races of FOC are currently recognised around the world, with races infecting different banana varieties and Heliconia species. Tropical race 4 (TR4), is of particular concern, as it can infect most varieties of banana including the most widely grown and consumed variety, Cavendish. Infection of bananas occurs when the fungus enters through the root system and travels throughout the plant resulting in external symptoms such as wilting, leaf yellowing and stem splitting. The disease is easily spread through the movement of contaminated soil, water, plant material and unsterilised equipment.

Williams variety showing leaf yellowing

Due to the ease of spread and long lifespan of the pathogen in soil, TR4 has spread quickly across South East Asia. It was first detected in the NT in 1997. Recent detections of TR4 in the highly productive banana growing region of North Queensland, where over 95 percent of Australia’s bananas are produced, has the potential to decimate the Australian banana industry. TR4 was declared as endemic to the NT in 2012. This provides a unique opportunity for field research to be conducted to understand the disease and test new varieties. Research to overcome the devastating effects of this pathogen is essential to safeguarding and improving banana production in the NT and Australia as a whole.

Internal symptoms of Panama disease

Internal symptoms of Panama disease

The Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and suite of collaborators from universities, government agencies and the Australian Banana Growers Council are conducting a wide range of research with the aim to manage and combat this disease. Extensive testing of emerging varieties for resistance to TR4 continues at the Coastal Plains Research Farm. Round one of variety screening included 27 varieties selected due to potential resistance to the pathogen and availability in Australia. The plants were monitored on a weekly basis with data collected on the presence of external and internal TR4 symptoms as well as agronomic features through to the first ratoon.

An additional screening trial which includes varieties from international breeding programs will commence later this year. This research aims to assist growers by selecting new resistant banana varieties grown in the presence of TR4. This may influence future research decisions.

DPIR in collaboration with DAF are focusing on a collection of other research topics in the fight against Panama disease; including:

  • Testing the efficacy of disinfectants.
  • Determining whether TR4 can survive in common weeds.
  • Identifying potential soil inoculum suppression techniques through rotation and cover crop trials.
  • Testing the ability of TR4 to pass undetected through tissue culture processes.
  • Developing and improving banana varieties that have known resistance to this pathogen.

Last updated: 07 August 2019