Strategies for improved disease resistance in micro-propagated bananas

Njoroge, Mumbi Agnes (2012) Strategies for improved disease resistance in micro-propagated bananas. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Bananas (Musa sp) are one of the most important food crops in the world and provide a staple food and source of income in many households especially in Africa. Diseases are a major constraint to production with bunchy top, caused by Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) generally considered the most important virus disease of bananas worldwide. Of the fungal diseases, Fusarium wilt, caused by the Fusarium oxysporum f.sp cubense (Foc), and black Sigatoka, caused by Mycosphaerella fijiensis, are arguably two of the most important and cause significant yield losses. The low fertility of commercially important banana cultivars has hampered efforts to generate disease resistance using conventional breeding. Possible alternative strategies to generate or increase disease resistance are through genetic engineering or by manipulation of the innate plant defence mechanisms, namely systemic acquired resistance (SAR). The first research component of this thesis describes attempts to generate BBTV-resistant banana plants using a genetic modification approach. The second research component of the thesis focused on the identification of a potential marker gene associated with SAR in banana plants and a comparison of the expression levels of the marker gene in response to biotic and abiotic stresses, and chemical inducers.

Previous research at QUT CTCB showed that replication of BBTV DNA components in banana embryogenic cell suspensions (ECS) was abolished following co-bombardment with 1.1mers of mutated BBTV DNA-R. BBTV DNA-R encodes the master replication protein (Rep) and is the only viral protein essential for BBTV replication. In this study, ECS of banana were stably transformed with the same constructs, each containing a different mutation in BBTV DNA-R, namely H41G, Y79F and K187M, to examine the effect on virus replication in stably transformed plants. Cells were also transformed with a construct containing a native BBTV Rep. A total of 16, 16, 11 and five lines of stably transformed banana plants containing the Y79F, H41G, K187M and native Rep constructs, respectively, were generated. Of these, up to nine replicates from Y79F lines, four H41G lines, seven K187M lines and three native Rep lines were inoculated with BBTV by exposure to viruliferous aphids in two separate experiments. At least one replicate from each of the nine Y79F lines developed typical bunchy top symptoms and all tested positive for BBTV using PCR. Of the four H41G lines tested, at least one replicate from three of the lines showed symptoms of bunchy top and tested positive using PCR. However, none of the five replicates of one H41G line (H41G-3) developed symptoms of bunchy top and none of the plants tested positive for BBTV using PCR. Of the seven K187M lines, at least one replicate of all lines except one (K187M-1) developed symptoms of bunchy top and tested positive for BBTV. Importantly, none of the four replicates of line K187M-1 showed symptoms or tested positive for BBTV. At least one replicate from each of the three native Rep lines developed symptoms and tested positive for BBTV. The H41G-3 and K187M-1 lines possibly represent the first transgenic banana plants generated using a mutated Rep strategy.

The second research component of this thesis focused on the identification of SAR-associated genes in banana and their expression levels in response to biotic and abiotic stresses and chemical inducers. The impetus for this research was the observation that tissue-cultured (TC) banana plants were more susceptible to Fusarium wilt disease (and possibly bunchy top disease) than plants grown from field-derived suckers, possibly due to decreased levels of SAR gene expression in the former. In this study, the pathogenesis-related protein 1 (PR-1) gene was identified as a potential marker for SAR gene expression in banana. A quantitative real-time PCR assay was developed and optimised in order to determine the expression of PR-1, with polyubiquitin (Ubi-1) found to be the most suitable reference gene to enable relative quantification. The levels of PR-1 expression were subsequently compared in Lady Finger and Cavendish (cv. Williams) banana plants grown under three different environmental conditions, namely in the field, the glass house and in tissue-culture. PR-1 was shown to be expressed in both cultivars growing under different conditions. While PR-1 expression was highest in the field grown bananas and lowest in the TC bananas in Lady Finger cultivar, this was not the case in the Cavendish cultivar with glass house plants exhibiting the lowest PR-1 expression compared with tissue culture and field grown plants. The important outcomes of this work were the establishment of a qPCR-based assay to monitor PR-1 expression levels in banana and a preliminary assessment of the baseline PR-1 expression levels in two banana cultivars under three different growing conditions.

After establishing the baseline PR-1 expression levels in Cavendish bananas, a study was done to determine whether PR-1 levels could be increased in these plants by exposure to known banana pathogens and non-pathogens, and a known chemical inducer of SAR. Cavendish banana plants were exposed to pathogenic Foc subtropical race 4 (FocSR4) and non-pathogenic Foc race 1 (Foc1), as well as two putative inducers of resistance, Fusarium lycopersici (Fol) and the chemical, acibenzolar-S-methyl (BION®). Tissue culture bananas were acclimatised under either glass house (TCS) or field (TCH) conditions and treatments were carried out in a randomised complete block design. PR-1 expression was determined using qPCR for both TCS and TCH samples for the period 12-72h post-exposure. Treatment of TCH plants using Foc1 and FocSR4 resulted in 120 and 80 times higher PR-1 expression than baseline levels, respectively. For TCS plants treated with Foc1, PR-1 expression was 30 times higher than baseline levels at 12h post-exposure, while TCS plants treated with FocSR4 showed the highest PR-1 expression (20 times higher than baseline levels) at 72h post-exposure. Interestingly, when TCS plants were treated with Fol there was a marked increase of PR-1 expression at 12 h and 48 h following treatment which was 4 and 8 times higher than the levels observed when TCS plants were treated with Foc1 and FocSR4, respectively. In contrast, when TCH plants were treated with Fol only a slight increase in PR-1 expression was observed at 12 h, which eventually returned to baseline levels. Exposure of both TCS and TCH plants to BION® resulted in no effect on PR-1 expression levels at any time-point. The major outcome of the SAR study was that the glass house acclimatised tissue culture bananas exhibited lower PR-1 gene expression compared to field acclimatised tissue culture plants and the identification of Fol as a good candidate for SAR induction in banana plants exhibiting low PR-1 levels.

A number of outcomes that foster understanding of both pathogen-derived and plant innate resistance strategies in order to potentially improve banana resistance to diseases were explored in this study and include identification of potential inducers of systemic acquired resistance and a promising mutated Rep approach for BBTV resistance. The work presented in this thesis is the first report on the generation of potential BBTV resistant bananas using the mutated Rep approach. In addition, this is the first report on the status of SAR in banana grown under different conditions of exposure to the biotic and abiotic environment. Further, a robust qPCR assay for the study of gene expression using banana leaf samples was developed and a potential inducer of SAR in tissue culture bananas identified which could be harnessed to increase resistance in tissue culture bananas.

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ID Code: 61603
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Dale, James, Harding, Robert M., James, Anthony, Becker, Douglas, Huygens, Flavia, & Geijskes, Robert Jason
Keywords: bananas, BBTV, disease resistance, fusarium wilt, PR1, quantitative real time PCR, systemic acquired resistance (SAR)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 31 Jul 2013 01:38
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2015 05:28

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