Australian research could herald future safety of bananas

Monday, 24 January, 2022

Australian research could herald future safety of bananas

Australian scientists are developing a new variety of banana that is resistant to a disease which is ravaging crops around the world. The disease, Panama disease Tropic Race 4 (TR4), is a soil-borne fungus that will kill banana crops and can live in the soil for years. It is currently impossible to eradicate the disease, which affects most banana cultivars, and the disease represents a significant threat to the industrial farming potential of bananas around the world.

In order to counter the threat of TR4, researchers from the Queensland University of Technology and Hort Innovation have launched a $9.8 million research project to develop two varieties of banana that are resistant to the disease.

To do so, researchers are aiming to develop modernised versions of Cavendish and Goldfinger varieties by using gene-editing techniques. Goldfinger bananas are already resistant to TR4 but could use some help to become more amenable to the Australian palate. Cavendish bananas, on the other hand, account for 95% of the bananas grown in Australia and are highly susceptible to being infected.

“The original Cavendish varieties emerged probably more than 1000 years ago,” said Professor James Dale, project lead at Queensland University of Technology.

“It is an excellent banana but it is susceptible to some devastating diseases including Panama disease TR4.

“There is also concern that the banana industry worldwide is too dependent on a single variety and that greater variety diversity is highly desirable.

“We are now in a position to make very small changes in a banana genome that can have dramatic effects on the phenotype of the banana, whether it is disease resistance, fruit quality or fruit taste and texture.”

The project will run for five years and it is hoped that within that time headway will be made in producing a tasty, disease-resistant crop. It is being run as part of the Hort Frontiers Strategic Partnership Initiative.

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