Last updated January 11, 2018 at 10:45 am
Australian scientists have bred a genetically modified banana resistant to the devastating Panama disease, that threatens to wipe the fruit out.
The Cavendish banana is the product of a natural genetic accident that produced a fruit with no seeds. Consequently the banana is sterile and relies on cloning for propagation.
But that means all Cavendish bananas are genetically identical, leaving them vulnerable to diseases like Panama, also known as Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4).
TR4 can remain in the soil for more than 40 years and there is no effective chemical control for it.
Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), working in an area of heavily TR4-infested soil, modified one Cavendish line with the RGA2 gene taken from a TR4-resistant wild banana from Southeast Asia.
One tree line remained completely TR4 free, while three others showed robust resistance.
The results have just been published in Nature Communications.
By contrast, 67% to 100% of control banana plants after three years were either dead or TR4-infected.
The field trial ran from 2012 to 2015 on a commercial banana plantation outside Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory and was led by James Dale, from QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities.
“These results are very exciting because it means we have a solution that can be used for controlling this disease,” Dale said.
The next stage of research will look at how to switch on the gene in Cavendish to make them TR4 resistant.