Plant Sciences

Plant Sciences

Report Master Class Plant Sciences

The Indonesian treasure: Banana for the world – the power of genetics and genomics

Hotel Clarion Makassar, Sulawesi, 29 January 2014
Session chair: Dr G.H.J. Kema, Wageningen University and Research Center

Click here for the programme Master Class Plant Sciences; the Indonesian treasure: Banana for the world – the power of genetics and genomics.


Apart from being the world’s favorite fruit, banana is also a staple crop to millions of people throughout the tropics. All edible bananas are seedless and usually have three genomes, which significantly complicate conventional breeding. Cultivated bananas including desert bananas (AAA), cooking bananas (AAA or ABB) and plantains (AAB) have a narrow genetic base. In addition, the vast majority of current domesticated bananas have not been genetically improved for various pest and pathogen resistances.

A major threat in the banana cultivation is the Panama disease that caused an iconic epidemic in Latin America in the previous century and South-East Asia. As the fourth most important food crop, sustaining bananas is crucial for the world food production as only 15% of the global production is being exported. The remaining 85% is destined for local markets. Evidently, the development of genetic tools will accelerate breeding programs, but there are so few that meeting urgent market demands – such as disease resistance – cannot be fulfilled. Hence, genetic engineering is virtually the only valid option, particularly when genes exclusively from wild banana are used. Such lines of research essentially improve popular and preferred cultivars in a much shorter time frame.

Ongoing research has already resulted in bio-fortified bananas with provitamin A and microelements, which aims at preventing micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. This Master Class brought the latest on the interface between genetics and genomics to cope with the global problems that threaten banana and hence peasant livelihoods.


The master class was divided in a morning and an afternoon session. During the morning plenary lectures were given by invited speakers. During the afternoon two students presented their research ideas and these were subsequently discussed in small groups.
The master class was a good start of interactions between experts from Indonesia, Thailand and The Netherlands and provided a safe environment for open discussions. In total 16 participants were present and participated in discussion groups.

Group photo MC-PS








Participants of the Open Science Meeting 2014, Plant Science Master class
(Photo by organisers MC-Plant Sciences).

The organizer Dr. Gert HJ Kema (Wageningen University and Research Center, The Netherlands) opened the master class with a few words of welcome and introduced the ideas and program of the day. He introduced the subsequent speakers  including Prof. Siti Subandiyah and Dr. Arif Wibowo (Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta), Dr Yuyu Poerba (LIPI-Biology, Cibinong), Dr. Hugo Volkaert (Kasetsart University, Kamphaeng Saen, Thailand), Prof. Hans de Jong and Dr. Sietze Vellema (WUR, Netherlands).

Prof. Subandiyah introduced the Indonesian banana production and its importance for local economies and its potential for expanding markets. She highlighted the most important fungal, bacterial and viral diseases and how these are currently investigated in various banana research and development projects in Indonesia. Clearly, Panama disease is a major threat but the diversity in indigenous Indonesian germplasm is of great interest as it almost certainly contains genes for resistance that can be deployed nationally and internationally.

Prof. Yuyu Poerba subsequently described the rich biodiversity in Indonesia banana germplasm and the various ecological niches where this diversity is distributed. At LIPI-Biology a genetic approach is taken to unpack this diversity in order to make it available for breeding programs.

Dr. Arif Wibowo then introduced aspects of biological control of plant diseases, with a focus on banana in relation to the diversity on the microbial side. In addition, he high-lighted the societal impact of banana diseases as many of these crops are back-yard production units that are important as cash and food crops.

Dr. Hugo Volkaert introduced DNA sequence based taxonomy of banana. He emphasized the power of this technology and showed data that shed a new light on the origin of bananas. Current hypothesis on the origin of hybrid species (various combination of the A and B genomes from Musa acuminata and M. balbisiana) have to be questioned and will also impact breeding strategies. A practical implication of this information is the choice of panels for sequencing/diversity projects and the validity of maintaining certain germplasm in gene banks as the value of wild banana germplasm is generally overlooked.

Prof. Hans de Jong explained the power of genomics and cytogenetics in classical breeding and illustrated the subject with his long-term experience in tomato research. According to him, banana is a perfect example where the developed technologies for other crops can be readily applied to ensure a much more efficient strategy. A practical implication is the detection of structural genomic variants that will hamper recombination and thus can block the combination of particular preferred characteristics. A thorough analysis of proposed crossing partners would provide data for the selection of optimal crossing partners, which is the basis for successful delivery of improved germplasm.

Finally, Dr. Sietze Vellema, approached diversity from a societal context and showed that in addition to biological diversity, societal variation plays a crucial role in disease management. Hence, deploying unique genetic material to manage diseases should consider the local management of vulnerabilities and risks affecting income generation by farming households, and how these impact modes of disease management in banana growing. Furthermore, the embedding of individual farm management practices in area-wide modes of disease management and governance, and the implications for modes of coordinated preventive interventions was emphasized, exemplifying the need for interdisciplinarity in addressing plant disease epidemics, in particular in banana production.

Three PhD candidates, Mr Fajarudin Ahmad (LIPI-Cibinong), Mr Abdul Siregar (UGM-Yogyakarta) and Mr. Sudarmono Tahir (UGM-Yogyakarta) introduced their PhD projects or fields of interest in short 10 min presentations. Their ideas were briefly discussed during a plenary session and subsequently the group was divided in smaller working groups that discussed the ideas and approaches in detail. This provided the students with a good opportunity for deep expert evaluation that will help them to improve their research ideas or proposals. One of the results is that Mr Fajarudin Ahmad will have a training course on banana cytological and anatomical studies at Kasetsart University, Kamphaeng Saen, Thailand in the laboratories of Drs. Hugo Volkaert and Laksana Kantama in August 2014.

Finally, through contacts with Dr. Gerben Nooteboom, University of Amsterdam, we plan sampling missions for Fusarium oxyasporum f.sp. cubense and banana in rural Eastern Java where small holders grow up to 30 different banana species. In relation to the KNAW-SPIN program, this is an ideal setting for multidisciplinary sampling of both biological and societal diversity.

The Master Class provided several break-out sessions for refreshments that enabled additional open discussions and was a successful event.