Bananas are one of the top ten world food crops. Unlike most other major food crops, bananas are difficult to genetically improve. The challenge is that nearly all banana cultivars and landraces are triploids, with high levels of male and female infertility. There are a number of international conventional breeding programs and many of these are developing new cultivars. However, it is virtually impossible to backcross bananas, thus excluding the possibility of introgressing new traits into a current cultivar. The alternative strategy is to “modify” the cultivar itself. We have been developing the capacity to modify Cavendish bananas and other cultivars for both disease resistance and enhanced fruit quality. Initially, we were using transgenes; genes that were derived from species outside of the Musa
or banana genus. However, we have recently incorporated two banana genes (cisgenes) into Cavendish; one to enhance the level of pro-vitamin A and the other to increase the resistance to Panama disease. Modified Cavendish with these cisgenes have been employed in a field trial. Almost certainly, the next advance will be to edit the Cavendish genome, to generate the desired traits. As these banana cultivars are essentially sterile, transgene flow and the outcrossing of modified genes into wild Musa
species. are highly unlikely and virtually impossible in other triploid cultivars. Therefore, genetic changes in bananas may be compatible with organic farming.
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