Biotech Updates

Scientists Race to Save Bananas from Panama Disease

April 24, 2019

Since its discovery in the 1800s, Fusarium Wilt or Panama disease has been a global threat to the banana industry, wiping out entire plantations in Asia, Australia, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. The economic impact of the disease has been catastrophic, with losses reaching US$18.2 billion to date. 

One of the major breakthroughs in the industry was the discovery of another variety of banana, known as the Cavendish. This variety was almost entirely resistant to Panama disease. Currently, 99% of exported bananas and about half of the total production worldwide are Cavendish bananas. However, the Panama disease has made a comeback, and not even the Cavendish is immune. 

Scientists now turn to modern biotechnology to create a new plant resistant to Panama disease. Genetic modification in particular, is seen as a possible solution to protect the plants from Tropical Race 4 or TR4, the strain of fungus that appeared in Taiwan in the early 2000s. 

For instance, researchers from Australia have discovered that adding two different genes — from a wild banana resistant to TR4 and another one from nematode worms — to the genetic code of Cavendish bananas protects the plants from TR4. Meanwhile, a team from Taiwan has already produced a Cavendish line which can somewhat withstand TR4. Another study shows evidence that some crops can defend bananas against TR4. 

For more details, read the news article in The Conversation.