Bacterial wilt-resistant banana

Crop scientists have successfully transferred genes from green pepper to banana that enable the crop to resist the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW). BXW or bacterial wilt is one of the most devastating diseases of banana in the Great Lakes region of Africa. It causes about half a billion dollars worth of damage yearly.

The transformed banana, infused with plant ferredoxin-like amphipathic protein (Pflp) or hypersensitive response-assisting protein (Hrap) from green pepper, have exhibited strong resistance to BXW in the laboratory and screenhouses.

The Hrap and Pflp are novel plant proteins that give crops enhanced resistance against deadly pathogens. They work by rapidly killing the cells that come into contact with the disease-spreading bacteria, preventing them from spreading any further. They can also provide effective control against other BXW-like bacterial diseases in other parts of the world such as “Moko”, Blood, and “Bugtok”. The genes used in this research were acquired under an agreement from the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

The mechanism is known as hypersensitivity response and activates the defense of surrounding and even distant uninfected banana plants leading to a systemic acquired resistance.

Scientists from IITA and the National Agricultural Research Organization of Uganda, in partnership with African Agricultural Technology Foundation, would soon be evaluating these promising resistant lines under confined field trials after the Ugandan National Biosafety Committee recently approved the conduct of the tests.

Presently, there are no commercial chemicals, biocontrol agents, or resistant varieties that could control the spread of BXW. Developing a truly resistant banana through conventional breeding would be extremely difficult and would take years, given the sterile nature and long gestation period of the crop.