Researchers to save Queensland’s banana industry

New funding announced today by Innovation Minister Kate Jones will help Queensland researchers develop a non-genetically modified Cavendish banana that’s able to resist the insidious Panama disease that threatens the state’s $600 million banana industry.

Queensland University of Technology genetic biotechnologist Dr Upendra Shekhawat from the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities will receive an early-career Industry Research Fellowship for the project with NQ Banana Research Pty Ltd and LaManna Premier Group.

“Bananas ares one of Queensland’s most important crops, particularly in Tully and Innisfail where this industry is a major employer.

“Panama disease tropical race 4 is the greatest threat to Australia’s banana production and with 80 per cent of Australia’s bananas grown in North Queensland, this research project is vitally important.”

Ms Jones said the $7.2 million Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships announced today would support 30 researchers, working in collaboration with a Queensland company on projects that will have an impact on the world

“Through our Industry Research Fellowships, we’re putting an end to the brain drain,” she said.

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“With this initiative, we’re making sure that we’re keeping the state’s best and brightest researchers in Queensland and also attracting talented researchers from interstate and overseas.

“The projects that we’re supporting today have the potential not only to create jobs in Queensland but solve serious problems.”

“This work is vitally important for Tropical North Queensland,” he said.

“It’s about backing Queensland experts to solve one of the biggest challenges facing our farmers.

“I’m proud to be part of a government that’s investing in the research we need to safeguard our banana industry.”

Dr Shekhawat will receive $180,000 to develop a non-GM Cavendish banana resistant to Panama disease.

Dr Shekhawat said while colleagues at QUT had already developed a GM Cavendish banana resistant to this disease, the Advance Queensland funding would enable researchers to investigate gene editing techniques to develop a non-GM banana.

“This is important because development of such a banana would ensure the survival of Queensland’s banana industry against a disease that has decimated the banana industry in the Northern Territory, is widespread throughout Asia and now present in Africa,” Dr Shekhawat said.

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“The development of non-GM, TR4-resistant Cavendish bananas might not only open up an international export market for these banana plants, but would also be of great assistance to banana growers and the industry worldwide as the Cavendish variety accounts for more than 50 per cent of the world’s bananas.”

LaManna Premier Group (LPG) Chief Executive Officer Mr Anthony DiPietro, said that as a key player in the Australian banana growing industry, he was very excited about this project.

“Alongside our partners and with the support of the Palaszczuk Government, this will greatly assist the future sustainability of the Australian banana industry which is important for our consumers and the economy,” Mr DiPietro said.

The fellowships are part of the $650 million whole-of-government Advance Queensland initiative to foster innovation and build a more diversified Queensland economy, creating jobs now and for the future.

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