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For the Cavendish

The popular Cavendish banana is in genetic trouble, a trio of researchers writes at the Conversation.

The Cavendish, found in grocery stores all over the Western world, is a monoculture of genetically identical plants. It is sterile and relies on clonal propagation through suckers or cuttings or tissue culture. This, the trio of University of California, Davis's Ioannis Stergiopoulos, André Drenth from the University of Queensland, and Gert Kema at Wageningen University writes, means all Cavendish bananas have the same susceptibility to disease.

Bananas have been lost to disease before, they note. Before the Cavendish's rise in popularity, a common banana was the Gros Michel variety, but it was devastated by Fusarium wilt in the 1960s.

To prevent something similar from affecting the Cavendish, which is susceptible to both Black Sigatoka and new strain of Fusarium wilt, Stergiopoulos, Drenth, and Kema say that the genome sequence of both the banana and the infecting fungi are providing insight. With that, plus sequences of other plants, they say researchers may be able to uncover resistance genes that could be incorporated into the Cavendish.

"Availability of the latest tools and detailed genome sequences, coupled with long-term visionary research in genetics, engineering and plant breeding, can help us keep abreast of the pathogens that are currently menacing the Cavendish banana," they write, adding that greater genetic diversity among cultivated bananas is also needed.