World’s favorite banana faces extinction. Are GMOs, CRISPR the final hope?

dale lab bananas
Biotechnology professor James Dale holds banana seedlings in his lab

The race to engineer the next-generation banana is on. The Colombian government confirmed [in August] that a banana-killing fungus has invaded the Americas — the source of much of the world’s banana supply. The invasion has given new urgency to efforts to create fruit that can withstand the scourge.

Scientists are using a mix of approaches to save the banana. A team in Australia has inserted a gene from wild bananas into the top commercial variety — known as the Cavendish — and are currently testing these modified bananas in field trials. Researchers are also turning to the powerful, precise gene-editing tool CRISPR to boost the Cavendish’s resilience against the fungus, known as Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4).

Related article:  Just-discovered rice gene could fuel development of new GMO herbicide-resistant crops

In an attempt to make biotech bananas more palatable to regulators, [James Dale, a biotechnologist at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia] is …. editing the Cavendish’s genome with CRISPR to boost its resilience to TR4, instead of inserting foreign genes.

Specifically, he’s trying to turn on a dormant gene in the Cavendish that confers resistance to TR4 — the same gene that he identified in M. acuminate. But the work is still in its early stages. “It’ll be a couple of years before these get into the field for trials,” Dale says.

Read full, original article: CRISPR might be the banana’s only hope against a deadly fungus

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