Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., based in Coral Gables, Florida, has partnered with Queensland University of Technology (QUT), located in Brisbane, Australia, to lead innovation toward the development of disease-resistant bananas. The partnership will help to identify new ways of growing bananas that are less susceptible to Tropical Race 4 (TR4), also known as Fusarium or Panama disease, and are more sustainable to our food supply.
Fresh Del Monte’s collaboration with QUT aligns with the company’s global operational priorities to strengthen its position in the banana market and increase customer and consumer loyalty through product quality and innovation. The research partnership will focus on utilizing breakthroughs in plant trait developments to cultivate bananas that are resistant to crop-threatening diseases, specifically the TR4 strain. TR4 is a fungus that has plagued banana crops for decades, spreading faster over the last decade and potentially impacting the future availability of bananas for consumers.
An international leader in fresh fruit and vegetables, Fresh Del Monte seeks to further improve many of the challenges faced by – and contribute to the long-term sustainability of – the industry, particularly with managing catastrophic disease. The investment will position the company as a leading global banana marketer openly funding scientific research to address this threat against farmers, their livelihoods and the entire supply chain.
“We are addressing critical issues facing our industry as we speak,” said Hans Sauter, chief sustainability officer and SVP of research and development for agricultural services for Fresh Del Monte. “The ability to leverage the capabilities of the team at QUT is very exciting. We see the potential with these revolutionary technologies, and we are looking forward to putting these tools to work to solve real problems facing the world. Fresh Del Monte is proud to partner with a respected research university facility like QUT in this endeavor.”
At QUT, the scientific team is led by Professor James Dale, a researcher in the field of biotechnology. Dale’s research career has spanned more than 30 years on critical tropical fruit research with an emphasis on biofortification, molecular farming and disease resistance, including both traditional and genetically modified bananas. Dale’s research in bananas has garnered international acclaim, including collaborations with numerous researchers, non-profit organizations and corporations, many of which have focused on critical aspects of tropical crops and global health.
Dale’s research team has developed promising results utilizing the revolutionary CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) family of DNA sequences utilized to edit genes within organisms, or “gene-editing.” This Nobel Prize-winning technology platform allows for a wide variety of applications, including the development of plant biotechnology products.
“These new gene-editing technologies represent a new opportunity for addressing the global food supply in ways we never imagined,” said Dale. “Our partnership with Fresh Del Monte represents a great opportunity for our research to reach society in an efficient and commercially feasible manner.”