Established in 1994, the Biotechnology Department has its activities focused on four main themes:
On going research projects
- Propagation of sugar cane, potato, aloe vera and banana using tissue culture techniques
- Use of young leaf rolls for micropagation of sugar cane
- Elimination of Sugarcane yellow leaf virus and sugarcane yellows phytoplasma in local and imported sugar cane varieties
- Genetic transformation of sugar cane for herbicide and drought tolerance
- Transmission studies of sugarcane yellows phytoplasma by insect vectors
- Sugarcane yellow leaf virus: genetic diversity studies
- Sugar cane leaf scald: detection by PCR
- Development of a multiplex RT-PCR test for detection of potato viruses in tubers
- DNA fingerprinting of sugar cane using microsatellite markers and ISO 17025 accreditation for the test
- Identification of molecular markers associated with resistance to yellow spot disease
The major application of tissue culture techniques is for micropropagating disease-free material of new cultivars of sugar cane and potato. Regeneration of sugar cane plantlets from callus induced from young leaf rolls is also being used.
Sugar cane plantlets regenerated from young leaf rolls
In vitro plantlets of others crops including banana, pineapple, aloe vera and orchids are also produced on request. With the existing facilities, some 300 000 plantlets of different crops are produced annually.
A range of PCR-based diagnostic tests are in routine use for diseases of sugar cane including Sugarcane yellow leaf virus, sugarcane yellows phytoplasma, leaf scald, and leaf streak virus. Real-Time RT-PCR has also been developed for Sugarcane yellow leaf virus. For potato viruses, a duplex RT-PCR test is applied for diagnosis of potato virus Y (PVY) and potato leaf roll virus (PLRV) in tubers, while a multiplex RT-PCR is used to diagnose potato virus M (PVM), potato virus S (PVS) and potato virus X (PVX) simultaneously in tubers. Investigation is underway to apply Real-Time RT-PCR assay for detection of the potato viruses.
Molecular techniques that can be applied to the breeding and selection programme for the improvement of sugar cane varieties are being investigated. Our goal is to shorten the selection cycle. Efforts are presently focused on the identification of molecular markers associated with resistance to yellow spot disease as well as for early ripening varieties. DNA fingerprinting of cultivars, using microsatellite markers, are in progress. The microsatellite markers are also employed for genetic diversity studies of varieties and for parental identification of progeny derived from polycrosses.
Using the biolistic particle delivery system we are transforming sugar cane varieties for herbicide and drought resistance. Embryogenic callus derived from young inflorescences and young leaf rolls are transformed.
Green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene expressing in sugar callus
- Two tissue culture laboratories
- One genetic transformation laboratory
- One laboratory for DNA fingerprinting
- Two laboratories for molecular biology work
- One laboratory for work with radioisotopes
Dr Asha Saumtally Dookun
Principal Research Manager