DOST-PCAARD, UPLB develop high-yielding, disease resistant abaca hybrid variety

MANILA, Dec. 16 (PNA) — An abaca hybrid variety which is resistant to viruses and could generate high yield is being developed by researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Banos Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB) and the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARD).

The experts were able to do this through altering the genetic composition of the abaca with the gene resistant marker of pacol, a wild variety of banana endemic in the Bicol region, which has been used by plant breeders for hybrid purposes.

“Through the use of gene markers, the selection process for the bunchy-top resistant genes of pacol was significantly reduced,” project leader Dr. Antonio Lalusin of the UPLB-IPB said. “While the conventional breeding takes 10 years or so, we were able to produce resistant abaca in about five years or less using modern genetic technologies,” he added.

The fiber crop is vulnerable to viruses namely abaca bunchy top, abaca mosaic and abaca bract mosaic. The bunchy top is the most injurious among the viruses as it does not only lower the quality of harvested fibers but also hinders the growth of infected abaca which results to no harvest at all.

The project also seeks to increase good quality fiber yield by about 0.2 metric tons per hectare through the use of hybrid abaca plants which is equivalent to an additional 14,488 MT of good quality harvest or roughly P 579.5 million in revenues.

The team of scientists aims to produce 2.5 million hybrid plantlets through tissue culture by 2014. Around one million tissue cultured plantlets in different stages of growth are currently housed in laboratory, greenhouse and field trial stations.

The top ten abaca producing regions, most of them hit badly by typhoon Yolanda, will be given planting materials to revive the industry.

Currently, the local abaca industry holds 85 percent share in the world market, with the Bicol region contributing about 36 percent production.

Abaca, commonly known as Manila hemp, the country’s premier fiber, is commonly used as clothing and footwear materials worldwide because of its incomparable tensile strength. The application of the abaca fiber has been expanded to sophisticated industries such as production of pulp for specialty papers such as currency notes, stencil papers in addition to textiles, handicrafts and is also being used by car manufacturers as automobile composites. (PNA)