Angélique D'Hont

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ScienceShot: Will the Genome Save the Banana?

Reports of the banana's demise may have been greatly exaggerated. At least that's the hope of a team of scientists, which has finally sequenced the genome of the fruit and is counting on it to yield new resistance genes to protect it from two fungal foes: Panama disease and black sigatoka. More than half the world's bananas and almost all of the ones exported to the United States and Europe belong to the Cavendish variety (left). That plant has no seeds and does not sexually reproduce, meaning all are genetically identical and equally susceptible to the fungi threatening them. The Cavendish also has three sets of chromosomes, which makes its genome enormously difficult to sequence. Instead, in the new study reported online today in Nature, the researchers sequenced the genome of a variety called DH Pahang (right). It is one of three bananas that contributed to the Cavendish, and it is highly resistant to the strain of Panama disease threatening the Cavendish. What's more, as the seeds show, it has an intact sex life, meaning it can be used for breeding a new variety—perhaps one that's hardier than today's bananas.

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