MUSA -Microbial Uptakes for Sustainable management of major bananA pests and diseases is a 4-year, €4 million international project funded by the European Commission Horizon 2020 initiative.
Fungal diseases, nematodes and weevils affect global banana production and therefore food security, causing huge annual losses across banana-producing regions. In regions such as Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) millions of farmers rely on cooking banana, plantain and ensete as starch staple food crops and for income. Pesticides no longer represent a sustainable option for control, and many have been progressively withdrawn from use in the EU or are highly restricted, due to harmful effects on the environment and toxic residues. In SSA, where phytosanitary policies and regulations are often less effective, such pesticides are still being (mis)used, posing a significant threat to vulnerable farmers and consumers. In the absence of long term strategies or suitable control methods, and under the influence of changing climates in tropical and subtropical regions, banana crops are becoming ever more exposed to pathogens and pests due to higher multiplication rates and prevalence induced by temperatures and rainfall patterns.
The principal outcome of this project will be to achieve sustainable intensification of Musa spp. and ensete crops, through identification, development and implementation of IPM based on beneficial microorganisms. MUSA proposes, in a holistic view, IPM methods based on microbial consortia and banana germplasm, studying the plant reactions (phenotypic and molecular) to different biotic stresses. This will be achieved by screening, testing and evaluating in the field, selected banana lines, in an attempt to identify (via transcriptomic analyses) the principal genes involved in driving a resistant/succumbent response, and the interaction with beneficial microorganisms. The latter include endophytes and biocontrol agents (EBCAs) integrated with plant germplasm to develop information-based IPM strategies through field trials.
I will be developing models of banana yield and disease risk under various climate change scenarios in SSA, to understand how productivity could be affected in future. In addition, I can conducting a meta-analysis of biocontrols of banana pests and diseases, to locate promising lines of research and application, and to locate knowledge gaps. My colleague David Studholme at Exeter University will be applying his expertise in bioinformatics to help understand how the plant and soil microbiome contribute to plant health.