Researchers at the Australian Queensland University of Technology (QUT) under the lead of Professor James Dale have successfully developed a line of Cavendish bananas resistant to Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4). Prof Dale said the field trials showed that high expression of the gene RGA2 derived from a wild banana provides resistance to TR4 disease. RGA2 is also present in Cavendish, but it is not expressed.
The development of the TR4 resistant line has led to a partnership with US-based international fresh fruit and vegetable leader Fresh Del Monte, which would enable the researchers to use the gene-editing tool CRISPR to develop a non-genetically modified variety of Cavendish that will also be resistant to TR4.
“While our success in developing a disease-resistant genetically modified line of Cavendish is a world-first achievement, this funding will enable us to develop the next generation of TR4-resistant Cavendish bananas,” Prof Dale commented on this partnership.
TR4 is caused by a fungus that survives in the soil for more than 40 years. This catastrophic disease leads to diminished crops across Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and in 2019, it was found in Colombia in Latin America, the region which accounts for about 85 per cent of the world's export bananas.
“With bananas being a staple food in many nations around the world, this disease has the potential to become a humanitarian issue,” Prof Dale said. He added that until the 1950s the most common export banana world-wide had been the Gros Michel, a variety that was obliterated by Panama disease race 1. “Scientists around the world are working to ensure Cavendish doesn’t suffer the same fate,” Prof Dale stated.
The Fresh Del Monte and QUT research collaboration is staged with multiple phases over the next five years, ultimately resulting in novel commercial resistant banana variety releases. Both partners see this effort as the first step in leading future innovation in the banana sector.
More information at QUT website