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Banana Genome Could Help Bunches

Researchers sequenced the genome of a type of banana, which may help the most popular banana variety ward off diseases that threaten its existence. Sophie Bushwick reports

It’s not easy being yellow: bananas now face two separate fungal epidemics, which threaten to pluck the fruit off of our tables. Fortunately, researchers have now sequenced banana DNA, producing the genome of a banana variety that may hold the secret to defeating the diseases. The report is in the journal Nature. [Angélique D’Hont et al., "The banana (Musa acuminata) genome and the evolution of monocotyledonous plants"]

Today, half of all bananas, including the ones you probably buy, belong to the Cavendish variety, whose popularity stems in part from having no seeds. But this trait also removes sexual reproduction from the equation. The bananas are thus all genetically identical—and identically vulnerable to the two fungal epidemics, Panama disease and black leaf streak disease.

Researchers sequenced the genome of a banana variety called DH-Pahang, whose genes contributed to the Cavendish. While the genome shows where this fruit fits in the history of plant evolution, it could also help researchers understand why DH-Pahang, unlike its descendant, is resistant to the funguses behind both Panama and black leaf streak disease.

Knowing the genes responsible for this resistance could help breeders create stronger, more resistant bananas. Which has a lot of appeal.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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