For decades, biotech researchers and conventional breeders were foiled in their efforts to bring disease resistance to the Cavendish [banana] or to hybridize a replacement for the thick-skinned, slow-ripening variety that dominates banana exports, a $12.4 billion global business.
Soon after [fusarium wilt, also known as Panama disease Tropical Race 4, or TR4] was identified, banana farmers had reported that a subspecies of the Musa acuminata variety of sweet bananas, which grows in the wild across Malaysia and Indonesia, was “growing happily in plantations devastated by TR4,” said James Dale, a professor of biotechnology at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
It took years to isolate the gene responsible for the resistance. Then, in 2004, a breakthrough: Dale’s lab identified candidate genes worth testing. Over three more years of painstaking work, Dale inserted genes from the M. acuminata subspecies into cells from a Cavendish, developing them first in tiny test tubes, then growing whole plants.
Dale’s project may be the best hope science now has for making the Cavendish resistant to TR4 without eliminating taste, texture and other characteristics that make it so appealing and commercially successful.
The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: Bananapocalypse: The race to save the world’s most popular fruit