The sago palms in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea are in serious decline due to an unidentified fungal disease vectored by weevils. Decline-tolerant sago lines are being evaluated currently at over 20 collaborating farmers in Arawa area. This is a long-term project to restore the once legendary sago forests in Bougainville. The project is funded by The Christensen Fund. The project is described in detail – click here.
(Sago tree with flowers, in Bougainville.)
Phytoremediation is a technology to remove pollutions from environments using the ability of certain plants that can absorb and translocate pollutant molecules and ions from roots to shoots without negatively affecting their normal physiology. These plants are termed hyperaccumulators. I have introduced this technology to clean up the soils polluted by mining activities in Panguna, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The project is funded by The Christensen Fund, and it is currently in progress, and is described in detail – click here.
(Panguna mine pit in Bougainville.)
Service for ITPGRFA
Papua New Guinea acceded the international treaty, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2015. I was appointed to be the first focal point for Papua New Guinea to represent the country for the treaty matters. I attended the Sixth Governing Board meeting in Rome in 2016. I was allowed to speak in the meeting on two occasions. My speeches were:
-Expression of appreciation to the Governing Body and the Pacific community for the treaty accession, and
-Request for the support from ITPGRFA to protect the coconut gene banks in Papua New Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, on behalf of Global Crop Trust.
(In the (ITPGRFA GB-6 meeting in FAO, Rome)
Introduction of NERICA to Papua New Guinea
NERICA is a group of rice varieties bred by crossing the Aisan rice (Oryza sativa) and African rice (Oryza glaberrima), combining the high yielding trait and desirable taste of the former, and the low water requirement and pest/disease tolerance of the latter. Although NERICA was developed for Africa, I took note of its potential in Papua New Guinea in times of El Niño induced droughts, which are becoming more frequent than before in recent years. The 78 NERICA lines are currently being evaluated.
(NERICA rice, right, is maturing earlier than the Asian rice, left, at NARI Laloki station, Papua New Guinea.)
At present, Pacific countries lack long-term crop breeding programs. This is due both to the lack of funding and technical capacity. Besides, crop breeding requires long term planning and stable institutional policy to support the infrastructure, staff, and funding. To address these issues, and to demonstrate the possibility of what breeding can do to the community, I have opted to initiate mutation breeding to develop drought and salt tolerant lines of aibika and sweet potato. Mutation breeding requires shorter time than traditional crossing-based breeding to develop enhanced lines.
Both chemical mutagen (EMS) and physical mutagen (heavy-ion beam) were used for mutagenesis. Promising lines are currently evaluated. Heavy-ion beam irradiation was carried out in collaboration with Riken in Japan. This project was funded by the European Union.
(The EMS mutant lines of aibika were screened for salinity tolerance. Take note of the two lines growing in the soil with high salt content.)
(Heavy-ion beam generated by a cyclotron is used to mutate plant, at Riken in Wako, Saitama, Japan.)
Capacity development in biotechnology
Most Pacific countries lacked facilities to perform molecular diagnostic capacity to detect pathogens and analyze genetic resources. Through funding from a number of sources, including European Union. I have set up the labs that are able to perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and other basic molecular techniques. Such laboratories include the NARI Biotechnology Centre and Solomon Islands Biosecurity lab in Honiara. I am also assisting Fiji Ministry of Agriculture’s Koronivia Research Station lab and Aiyura Aquiculture lab in Papua New Guinea. These lab will be able to perform pathogen detection, DNA fingerprinting, DNA barcoding, and other applications using PCR.
I have over twenty year’s practical experience in the lab to perform molecular biology and biochemical experiments, cloning, biotechnology, and bioinformatics, mainly in the institutes in the United States. The trainings that I conduct are backed by the troubleshooting ability that I gained over time.
Setting up these labs, combined with the capacity building of the staff, the diagnosis can be not only accurate, but also become cost-effective. Molecular diagnostic service has been largely outsourced to developed countries so far, and this new development will help bypass the IP issues and shortens the turnover time.
(PCR training at the Ministry of Agriculture lab in Honiara, Solomon Islands)
Introduction of LAMP
LAMP is a new diagnostic tool that may be more sensitive, versatile, and cost-effective than PCR. In collaboration with a Japanese biotechnology company Nippon Gene, I helped develop a LAMP kit that detect the phytoplasma pathogen that are destroying coconut palms in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. The kit was tested on site and the results were read in two hours, demonstrating its utility in remote location, where sophisticated lab facility and even power supply are not available. The kit will be used to test all the coconut trees preserved in the international coconut gene bank in Madang, so that the germplasm can be relocated to a safe place where it is phytoplasma free.
(Sampling a coconut tree for the detection of phytoplasma by LAMP.)
(The LAMP kit developed by Nippon Gene and University of Tokyo’s Namba Lab were used successfully on site in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea.)