Crop scientists have successfully transferred genes from green pepper to bananas that enable the crop to resist the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reported in August 2010. BXW is one of the most devastating diseases of banana in the Great Lakes region of Africa, causing more than half a billion dollars worth of damage each year. The researchers are poised to begin confined field trials in Uganda soon.
The transformed banana, infused with plant ferredoxin-like amphipathic protein (Pfl p) or hypersensitive responseassisting protein (Hrap) from green pepper, have exhibited strong resistance to BXW in the laboratory and screenhouses. Scientists from the IITA and the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda, in partnership with African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), are soon to be evaluating these promising resistant lines under confined field trials. The Ugandan National Biosafety Committee recently
approved the conduct of the tests.
The highly destructive BXW affects all varieties including the East African Highland bananas and exotic dessert, roasting and beer bananas. BXW was first reported in Ethiopia 40 years ago on Ensete, a crop relative of banana, before it moved on to bananas. Outside of Ethiopia, it was fi rst reported in Uganda in 2001, then rapidly spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi, leaving a trail of destruction in Africa?s largest banana producing and consuming region.
The disease causes yellowing and wilting of the leaves, uneven and premature ripening of the fruit, and withering and rotting of the whole plant. It can be managed by debudding the banana plant and sterilising farm implements used. However, the adoption of these practices has been inconsistent at best as farmers feel that debudding affects the quality of the fruit and sterilising farm tools is too tedious.