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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 6:49 a.m., Monday, December 17, 2007

UH researchers help slow banana bunchy top disease

News Release

Hawai'i banana growers who are ranked number one nationally in banana production are being threatened by a perilous pathogen known as banana bunchy top disease. To help slow the spread of the disease, caused by the Banana bunchy top virus, the Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences Department in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH Manoa are producing and distributing tissue-cultured banana plants that are free of BBTV.

Plants infected early with banana bunchy top virus do not bare fruit, and fruits of later infected plants are typically stunted, unattractive and not saleable, a UH news release said. The disease is transmitted by a small soft bodied insect known as the banana aphid. BBTV was first reported in Hawai'i in 1989 and has since spread progressively.

"The spread of BBTV in Hawai'i is greatly influenced by the movement and use of infected plant material, thus, the use of field-grown banana suckers as replant material is risky," Cerruti Hooks, a CTAHR entomologist said in a released statement from the school. Cerruti shared that although the bananas may appear healthy, they may already be infected with BBTV. "Using known BBTV-free plants is the safest practice available today for replacing diseased banana plants."

In addition to BBTV, CTAHR nematologist Koon-Hui Wang discovered that many banana fields are infested with plant-parasitic nematodes. These nematode feed, multiply and migrate into the banana root system, where they impair water and nutrient uptake. This affects plant anchorage and toppling might occur under high infestations. Banana suckers collected from fields containing nematodes may already be infested with these organisms, but using tissue-cultured plantlets may also help prevent the unintentional spread of nematodes.