Biotechnology to Improve Abaca Yield and Fiber Quality

How Philippines became the world’s top exporter of Abaca and how this country is capable of supplying globally.

By Julio Yap, Jr.

The Abaca Industry in the Philippines generates about US$ 80 million annually, making the country the world’s top exporter of abaca. The local industry is able to supply about 85 percent of need for raw material of global abaca fiber production.

However, viruses such as the Abaca Bunchy Top Virus (ABTV), mosaic, and bract mosaic have hindered the production of abaca in the country. In 2011, the Abaca Bunchy Top Virus devastated some 19,000 hectares of abaca plantations in the Philippines. Fighting the viruses: To address the challenges posed by these viruses, a project was launched that aims to improve the genetic makeup of abaca to enhance yield and fiber quality. The project is dubbed “Abaca Functional Genomics: High Throughput discovery of Genes and Molecular Markers.” Ultimately, the project is expected to improve the livelihoods of the thousands of abaca growers in the country.

It is being implemented by the Institute of Biological Sciences of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). The project is funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCAARRD-DOST).


The project examines the genetic, molecular, and biochemical mechanisms that support important traits of abaca, such as fiber quality and ABTV resistance. The method aims to develop molecular markers that will eventually lead to genetic improvement, which can raise yield and enhance fiber quality.

Researchers are now testing and validating the three genes that describe the mechanism of virus resistance of abaca line Back Cross 2 or BC2. These are the eukaryotic initiation factor 4G (eIF4G), proliferative cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), and retinoblastoma-related gene (RBR).

Featured technology: This technology was featured at the 12th National Biotechnology Week (NBW), which was held at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) late last year. Its theme was, “Bioteknolohiya: Kaagapay sa Pangkalahatang Kaunlaran, and the tagline, Yakapin ang Pagbabago, Biotek na Tayo!”

As part of DOST’s activities during the NBW, PCAARRD held a two-day agriculture and aqua science and technology (S&T) fora.

Aside from the fora, PCAARRD, along with other DOST agencies, showcased its biotechnology initiatives through an exhibit that was displayed at the BSWM grounds during the event.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2017 issue. 

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