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International Consortium Hopes to Peel Off Banana Genome in Five Years

NEW YORK, July 19 - Scientists from 11 countries announced Thursday the establishment of an international consortium that hopes to sequence the banana genome within five years.

The group, which met this week at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., have agreed to divide up the banana genome for sequencing, which with just 11 chromosomes and a total of 500,000 to 600,000 base pairs, is one of the smallest plants.

Funding, however, must still be secured. Countries from Australia to Mexico have already been investing about $1.2 million in banana genomics. But the consortium will need $4 million to $5 million annually to complete the project. The consortium is hoping that the additional funding will come from the NSF and the European Union.

The scientists expect that the new information about the banana genome will lead to the development of bananas that are resistant to Black Sigatoka, a deadly fungus that destroys banana crops.

"Banana will be the first exclusively tropical crop to be sequenced," Emile Frison, director of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain in Montpellier, France, and coordinator of the consortium, said in a statement.

"More than a popular snack, 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 for them and that may help lift them out of hunger and poverty," he said.

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