Virus Threatens African Bananas

Scientists Turn To Genetic Modification of Crops

In East and Central Africa, many farmers and their families rely on the production of bananas. East Africa produces and consumes the most bananas in Africa. Unfortunately, a plant virus called Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) threatens to knock out production in this booming market. This alarms farmers because bananas are staple for them to provide food and income security.

BXW is a disease that attacks the leaves. It is characterized by a bacterial ooze on the leaves, which causes early ripening, and fruit rot, leading to 100 percent crop loss. To control BXW, farmers cut out infected plants, sterilize farm tools and remove stems. Unfortunately these practices do not eliminate the problem. Many farmers are forced to stop planting bananas, leading to poverty. These banana crops provide more than 25 percent of food energy requirements for over 100 million people.” Now, scientists are in search of a longer-lasting cure.

Many organizations are working toward a cure for BXW, which would allow farmers to grow crops again and provide for their families. After eight years of research, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in collaboration with the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), is close to finding a solution.

With the help of the African Agricultural Technology foundation (AATF), scientists from IITA and NARO have engineered a resistant form of banana using the genes of green peppers and adding them to the banana's genome. These genetically modified (GM) bananas could make crops resistant to drought, flood, and disease.

Even though scientists have made outstanding progress over the course of eight years, there is still much more to accomplish. Leena Tripathi, an IITA biotechnologist said after more trials the GM bananas should be ready and available for farmers in 2020.

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