Bogia Coconut Syndrome is threatening the international coconut genebank in Papua New Guinea, one of several established in the 1990s under the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT). That’s the warning coming out of a meeting on the Pacific coconut industry taking place in Samoa, as relayed by SciDevNet. Dr Richard Markham, now with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, one of the co-sponsors of the meeting, but formerly of Bioversity, where he had responsibility for COGENT, is being admirably logical, calm and reassuring in his soundbites:
We are supporting research to try to identify the [Bogia Coconut Syndrome] vector and better understand the host range of this disease. Once we have that information, everyone will be better placed to assess the threat — both to coconuts and livelihoods in general.
But surely plans need to be put in place in case the worst happens. What to do? Roland Bourdeix, the current coordinator of COGENT, who’s responsible for the wonderful photo of coconut diversity I’m reproducing here, is talking of rescuing, relocating, duplicating. Possibly on those little isolated islets he’s so fond of. And that is no doubt an approach worth looking into. But there are 57 accessions to deal with from this genebank, and it’s going to take a while to find the necessary number of uninhabited island paradises, even if not all the 57 are unique. In vitro is an option too. COGENT has been working on an in vitro embryo collecting and transfer protocol, but it’s not quite there yet. Time to ramp that work up?
LATER: More reassuring words from Richard Markham on Facebook. No need to panic. But also no room for complacency.