After 20 years of research QUT readies its QCAV-4 variety for commercial release following Australian government approval 

The Australian government has issued Queensland University of Technology (QUT) a licence to commercially release QCAV-4, a genetically modified (GM) variety of Cavendish banana that is highly resistant to tropical race 4 (TR4). 

QUT Distinguished Professor James Dale with young banana plants in a shadehouse at the QUT field trial site in the Northern Territory

QUT Distinguished Professor James Dale with young banana plants in a shadehouse at the QUT field trial site in the Northern Territory

Source: QUT

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has also notified the Food Ministers’ Meeting (FMM) that it has approved QCAV-4 as suitable for human consumption. 

The FMM, made up of ministers from Australian state and territory governments and the Australian and New Zealand governments, has 60 days to either ratify FSANZ’s decision or request a review. 

The QCAV-4 banana is the world’s first GM banana to be approved for commercial production and also the first Australian GM fruit approved for growing in Australia. QCAV-4 offers a potential safety net against the devastating TR4 which threatens the global US$20bn banana industry. 

QUT vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil said this was a significant milestone for the QCAV-4 research team at QUT, where the Banana Biotechnology Program has been at the forefront of banana research for more than 25 years. 

“This is a wonderful example of fundamental research progressing through a commercialisation journey into a tangible outcome. QUT, along with our wonderful funders and partners, has been supporting the research for two decades so it’s fantastic to reach this milestone,” Shiel said. 

QCAV-4 is a Cavendish Grand Nain banana that has been bioengineered with a single banana resistance gene, RGA2, from the wild, South-East Asian banana, Musa acuminata ssp malaccensis. The variety was developed in partnership with government and industry and has been grown in field trials in the Northern Territory for more than seven years and proven to be highly resistant to TR4. Cavendish bananas already contain the RGA2 gene, but it is dormant. 

QUT distinguished professor James Dale and his team have been working on developing and growing genetically modified Cavendish bananas for more than 20 years. 

“This is a major step for QCAV-4 and comes after many years of development,” Dale said. 

“We welcome this decision as it’s a very important step towards building a safety net for the world’s Cavendish bananas from TR4 which has impacted many parts of the world already.” 

TR4 has had a devastating effect on global banana production but biosecurity rules have so far limited the impact of Panama Disease TR4 on the majority of the Australian industry. There are no plans to grow or sell QCAV-4 bananas to consumers in Australia at this time.