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Scientists to decode banana

The banana will be the next major food crop to have its gene sequence decoded, an international consortium of scientists from 11 countries has announced. The banana genome should allow researchers to develop strains that are more resistant to disease and which require fewer a...

The banana will be the next major food crop to have its gene sequence decoded, an international consortium of scientists from 11 countries has announced. The banana genome should allow researchers to develop strains that are more resistant to disease and which require fewer agrochemicals during cultivation. 'Bananas are a staple food that many African families eat for every meal. This is our chance to develop a crop that won't fail them and that may help lift them out of hunger and poverty,' said Dr Emile Frison, director of the International network for the improvement of banana and plantain in Montpelier, France. 'If we can devise resistant banana varieties, we could possibly do away with fungicides and pesticides all together,' he added. Some 95 million tonnes of bananas are grown annually by farmers in 120 countries, with 85 per cent of the global crop being produced for home consumption and local trade. These facts provide economic reasons for sequencing the banana, but its increasing vulnerability to disease is another important reason. New strains are now needed to resist the Black Sigatoka fungus, which affects many of the bananas in developing countries. The fungus can reduce yields by up to 50 per cent, and chemical spraying is too expensive for many of these farmers. Researchers are also hoping that the banana may be used as a nutraceutical, as its natural packaging could make it an ideal way to transport and consume drugs.

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