Tagging products with barcodes for easy price retrieval in supermarkets is now a regular practice that is often taken for granted.
However, scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have discovered that beyond supermarkets, barcodes can be employed across a whole spectrum of settings, including research.
Using barcodes in research
The Accelerated Breeding Better Bananas project has developed, adapted, fine-tuned, and deployed a fully operational banana breeding Tracking Tool- BTracT, which uses barcodes.
BTracT has enabled researchers to routinely track each step of the process along the breeding pipeline, from where the male parent’s pollen comes from to how the cooked product tastes.
How it works
Each plant in every location receives a specific barcode identity. Apart from parental pedigree and taste details, BTracT records agronomic performance, pest resistance, plant stature, color, and feel of cooked bananas. These details are stored on the global banana-breeding database, MusaBase, and can be accessed by everyone.
Banana breeding is extensive, and the performance of plants studied over several years can help identify the best performing and the most suitable varieties with the most desired traits.
BTracT uploads real-time data
“Having real-time upload of data allows supervisors to keep track of operations while away from the station. If a problem occurs, I am aware of it almost at the same time as the people on the ground. It also simplifies reporting as data needed for reports can quickly be accessed, also from anywhere in the world,” IITA banana breeder Allan Brown explains.
You identify the best hybrids at a touch of a button
While banana is an important food and cash crop for millions of subsistence farmers in developing countries, its yield is still low. In Uganda, the average yield of bananas is 10 t/ha/year, against a potential yield of 60 t/ha/year. The low yield is attributed to both abiotic and biotic constraints.
Banana breeding is the most feasible intervention to solve these production constraints. Accurately tracking a breeding programme’s progress and performance at all the different levels is involving and time-consuming. However, with BTracT one can easily identify the best hybrids without laboriously wading through tons of data.
How banana breeding is being transformed
BTracT is transforming banana breeding and revolutionising the whole process. It captures data on handheld devices, synchronises data from various locations, and enables querying and analytics of collected information on a central dashboard.
“This makes data collection much more efficient and accurate, to the joy of the research assistants. We now receive data much more timely, usually the day after collection,” says Ms Violet Akech, a research associate on banana improvement at Sendusu Station in Uganda.
It is fully operational with the IITA banana breeding programmes in Sendusu, and Arusha, across the entire workflow. It is also fully integrated into MusaBase, enabling seamless real-time data handling and data flow.
“We are now able to mine the data collected to improve the efficiency of the breeding programme and also get important insights into biological processes that have been bottlenecks in banana breeding. We see this as an important step, this being a data-driven breeding programme,” says system developer Trushar Shah.
Several private companies involved in banana tissue culture and seedling distribution systems are already enthusiastic about adapting the BTracT system.