Bananas Face Another Extinction Crisis, Can Gene Editing Save Bananas?

Published May 27, 2022 

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world, however, in fact bananas are at stake and we may no longer eat them at any time.

And the source of this crisis is fungal infection, and in 1950, an outbreak of a banana infectious disease with fungal infection called "Panama disease" directly led to the complete extinction of Gros Michel, the most widely planted banana variety at that time.

Since then, scientists have developed Cavendish, a new variety resistant to Panamanian disease, which now accounts for 99% of total banana sales worldwide.

However, the pathogenic fungi infecting bananas have also been evolving. In recent years, tropical type 4 (TR4), a variant of Panama disease, has emerged. Once infected with bananas, it will lead to the inability to deliver water and nutrients, shrink and blacken the central part of the banana tree, and completely wither all bananas in the banana garden within 2-3 years. Frightfully, spores of this fungus can lurk in the soil for more than 30 years, fungicides are ineffective against them, and this fungus can be transmitted through water droplets and a small amount of soil attached to machines or shoes. Therefore, once infected, the only way to curb transmission is to destroy all plants in the plantation and close the entire plantation for decades.

Due to the widespread cultivation of bananas in Cavendish, once tropical type 4 (TR4) of yellow leaf disease is disseminated on a large scale, it is likely to completely destroy the entire banana growing industry. It is therefore very urgent to design and cultivate a new generation of bananas that can resist this disease.

Because the Cavendish banana is triploid, has no seeds, and can only be propagated by cloning, it cannot be endowed with disease resistance to tropical type 4 (TR4) of yellow leaf disease by traditional breeding methods. Therefore, there may be only one way to save bananas from fungi, that is, to modify its genome and endow it with disease resistance to yellow leaf disease tropical type 4 (TR4).

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world, and people around the world eat more than 100 billion bananas each year. The entire banana industry is a large industry worth up to $25 billion on which millions of people depend. There are also more than 4 million people who eat bananas as the main food.

Therefore, bananas are not only a fruit, but also the basis on which many people depend, which is an important reason why we cannot lose bananas.

Traditional plant breeding is a hard, tedious, and time-consuming process that often takes decades to succeed. Moreover, planting bananas does not produce seeds, which leads to more difficult improved breeding of bananas.

The advent of gene editing technology has opened a new world for breeding, and the discovery of the DNA sequence of tropical type 4 (TR4) of banana yellow leaf disease, or the discovery of genes resistant to infection, enable targeted gene editing, deletion or insertion of specific DNA sequences, and produce anti-infective bananas. Moreover, the whole process is much faster than traditional breeding.

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