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DOST-ITDI project team collecting leaf samples in Bicol region. Image credit: DOST-ITDI

Biotech study on abaca and banana mosaic viruses gains momentum

New developments toward protecting abaca and banana against abaca Mosaic Virus (SCMV-Ab) and Banana Bract Mosaic Virus (BBrMV) were reported in a project review held recently by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD). 

Abaca and banana are among the most economical crops in the Philippines, particularly for their fiber and fruit, respectively. However, viral diseases such as SCMV-Ab and BBrMV continue to affect the production of these crops—impacting the livelihoods of many Filipino farmers. 

Led by S&T Fellow Dr. Fides Angeli D. Zaulda of the Industrial Technology Development Institute of DOST (DOST-ITDI), the project "Generation of a Plant Virus Vector for Protein Expression and Functional Gene Analysis in Abaca and Banana” of the Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines (VIP) program aims to develop a plant virus-based expression vector for protein expression and functional gene analysis in Musa sp. plants.

A plant virus-based expression vector is a medium that can effectively carry the desired genes from the virus into plant cells. Through modern biotechnology tools, this initiative will enable better understanding of the viruses’ infection cycles, virus-host interactions, and functional gene studies in abaca and banana, which can contribute to improving the yield and quality of the said crops.

For their first year of implementation, the project team has collected 62 banana and abaca leaf samples from the Bicol region, which will be used as source materials for BBrMV and SCMV-Ab isolates.

Mosaic virus symptoms such as mosaic patterns (left), necrotic leaves (center) and leaf deformation (right). Image credit: DOST-ITDI

The team also designed eight primer pairs for SCMV-Ab, nine primer pairs for BBrMV, and Rapid Amplification of cDNA Ends (RACE) primers for both viruses. These primers are instrumental in determining the full-length genome sequences of the Philippine isolates of the viruses.

In support of achieving their targets, the team established a plant virology laboratory at ADMATEL Building, DOST Compound, Taguig, Metro Manila. They also created in-house manuals for plant virology and sample collection and storage for both their laboratory and fieldwork.

Additionally, the team is currently in the process of forging collaborative partnership with the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines Diliman (NIMBB-UPD) and the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority under the Department of Agriculture (DA-PhilFIDA).

During the project review, Science and Technology (S&T) Consultant Dr. Filomena C. Sta. Cruz from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) emphasized the importance of developing an important tool for gene discovery to help address viruses in abaca and banana. She also provided suggestions to improve the project implementation and technical report writing.

Along with the project team from DOST-ITDI, also present in the review are DOST-Special Projects Division representative Simon E. Hildawa and DOST-PCAARRD representatives led by Office of the Executive Director for Research and Development Officer in Charge Juanito T. Batalon, Crops Research Division (CRD) Director Leilani D. Pelegrina, Industry Strategic S&T Program Manager for Abaca Sharie Al-Faiha A. Lubang, and key CRD staff.