Australian government approves release of QUT-developed GM Cavendish QCAV-4

The Australian Government has issued QUT a licence to commercially release QCAV-4, a genetically modified (GM) variety of Cavendish banana designed to help save the world’s Cavendish banana production.

Australian government approves release of QUT-developed GM Cavendish QCAV-4

First published on Queensland University of Technology

The Australian Government has issued QUT a licence to commercially release QCAV-4, a genetically modified (GM) variety of Cavendish banana designed to help save the world’s Cavendish banana production.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has also today notified the Food Ministers’ Meeting (FMM) that it has approved QCAV-4 as suitable for human consumption.

The FMM, made up of ministers from Australian state and territory governments and the Australian and New Zealand governments, has 60 days to either ratify FSANZ’s decision or request a review.

The QCAV-4 banana is the world’s first GM banana to be approved for commercial production and also the first Australian GM fruit approved for growing in Australia. QCAV-4 offers a potential safety net against the devastating Panama Disease tropical race 4 (TR4) which threatens the global US$20 billion banana industry.

QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil said this was a significant milestone for the QCAV-4 research team at QUT, where the Banana Biotechnology Program has been at the forefront of banana research for more than 25 years.

“It has been 20 years since QUT researchers received an Australian Research Council grant to search for potential TR4 resistance genes,” Professor Sheil said.

“This is a wonderful example of fundamental research progressing through a commercialisation journey into a tangible outcome. QUT, along with our wonderful funders and partners, has been supporting the research for two decades so it’s fantastic to reach this milestone.”

QUT Distinguished Professor James Dale and his team have been working on developing and growing genetically modified Cavendish bananas for more than 20 years.

“This is a major step for QCAV-4 and comes after many years of development,” Professor Dale said.

“We welcome this decision as it’s a very important step towards building a safety net for the world’s Cavendish bananas from TR4 which has impacted many parts of the world already.”

A wild banana plant with the gene (left), a cavendish banana plant (centre), and a QCAV-4 banana plant (right).

QCAV-4 bananas, developed in partnership with government and industry, have been grown in field trials in the Northern Territory for more than seven years and have proven to be highly resistant to Panama Disease TR4.

Panama Disease TR4 has already crippled Cavendish banana production in Asia, has started to take a foothold in South America and occurs in Australia in the Northern Territory and North Queensland.

QCAV-4 is a Cavendish Grand Nain banana that has been bioengineered with a single banana resistance gene, RGA2, from the wild, south-east Asian banana, Musa acuminata ssp malaccensis. Cavendish bananas already contain the RGA2 gene, but it is dormant.

There are no plans to grow or sell QCAV-4 bananas to consumers in Australia at this time.

“The devastating Panama Disease TR4 is caused by a soil-borne fungus that stays in the ground for more than 50 years, wiping out banana crops and destroying farms for generations,” Professor Dale said.

“It is a huge problem. It has devastated Cavendish plantations in many parts of the world and could cripple the Cavendish banana export industry worldwide.”

Australia’s world-class biosecurity rules have so far limited the impact of Panama Disease TR4 on the majority of the Australian industry, however it has been found in parts of North Queensland and has decimated the Northern Territory commercial banana industry.

“About 95 per cent of Australia’s bananas are grown in Queensland, and Cavendish banana accounts for 97 per cent of production,” Professor Dale said.

“Apart from providing a genuine protection against Panama Disease TR4 for the world’s export industry, QCAV-4 is a safety net for Australia’s $1.3 billion industry, which includes protected employment for 18,000 Queenslanders involved in banana production.”

Media contact:

Rod Chester, 07 3138 9449, rod.chester@qut.edu.au

After hours: 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au