Biotech Updates

A Project to Salvage Enset from Bacteria Wilt Launched

December 18, 2013

The Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have launched a new project to develop disease resistant enset through biotechnology.

The project launched on 16 December 2013 seeks to develop varieties of the enset or the Ethiopian banana (Ensete ventricosum), a staple food source for over 15 million people in Ethiopia, which has been affected by a deadly bacterial disease since 1968. The disease, currently threatening to wipe out banana in east and central Africa covering Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Burundi makes the plant yield ‘false bananas', which are inedible fruits resembling the actual crop. Scientists have failed to find any genes of resistance to the bacterial wilt disease in banana and enset and their wild relatives after over 30 years of research.

While officially launching the project, the Deputy Director of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Dr Adugna Wakjira appreciated the timeliness of the project due to its importance to the Ethiopian small scale farmer as food, feed and fiber. "Measures which we used to control the disease so far are just sanitary. This project is therefore very timely and relevant to the country, as we have to use modern tools in addition to our conventional breeding to solve this problem" he said.

"We have made great strides in banana transformation to develop varieties resistant to the disease using genes from sweet pepper. We are keen to extend these technologies to enset, at the request of the national scientists," says Leena Tripathi, IITA Plant Biotechnologist who will lead the project.

With funding from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the four year project seeks to build both human and infrastructural capacity in Ethiopia in conducting biotechnology research. It will also help policy makers put in place the necessary policies needed to carry out such research.

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