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July 05, 2010

Genes from sweet pepper may confer resistance to wilt disease on banana

Scientists in Uganda have developed GM bananas that show promising resistance to the deadly banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) disease.

Bananas are Uganda's leading non-cereal crop with some 70 per cent of the population depending on it as staple food. More than US$200 million has been lost to BXW infestation since 2001. The disease has also been reported in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Now, the banana plants modified with two genes derived from sweet peppers (Capsicum annuum) show resistance to the disease caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum.

Principal investigator Leena Tripathi, a Ugandan-based biotechnologist from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria, said inserting the genes - plant ferredoxin-like amphipathic protein (PFLP) and hypersensitive response-assisting protein (HRAP) - separately in four local banana varieties is giving encouraging results. But, she added, they still need to confirm this effectiveness in a field trial.

Even if BXW-resistant bananas prove successful in field trials, the absence of a GM law in Uganda will hamper farmers' access to the technology. The 2008 National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill is yet to be presented to the cabinet for approval before it goes to parliament for enactment.

SciDevNet

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