The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, says a team of scientists has achieved a major breakthrough in their efforts to develop improved banana and plantain varieties that are resistant to banana streak virus (BSV).
The virus is one of the diseases hampering the crops production in Africa and threatening the food and income of millions of farmers.
Plantain and banana are important staples food crops in tropical and subtropical countries. However, their production is constrained by a myriad of diseases.
“The development of improved varieties that are resistant to diseases and pests is vital to ensure healthy and high yields, and for food and income security,” the IITA said.
The banana streak virus works by integrating its DNA into the B genome of banana and plantain having one or more of the genome.
According to the IITA report, when the plants are stressed for example, by drought or heat, tissue culture the viral DNA produces functional viral particles, ultimately causing disease symptoms. Thus, major epidemics caused by BSV are not due to natural transmission through insect vectors or through use of infected planting materials, but rather due to activation of the integrated virus under stress conditions such as
“As a result, breeders avoid using banana and plantain that contain the B genome, like the Musa
“The team successfully used CRISPR, a powerful technology for genome editing, to develop plantain plants that showed high resistance to the banana streak virus. This is a widespread pathogen that develops chlorotic streaks on leaves that finally leads to the death of the plant.
“This is the first report of generation of a genome-edited crop in Africa.
“The research team was led by Leena Tripathi, Principal Scientist, at IITA based in Nairobi, Kenya, used the CRISPR/Cas9 system to inactivate viral DNA from the B genome of Gonja Manjaya. The Gonja Manjaya is a variety of false horn plantain of the Musa genus commonly grown in East and Central Africa.
“The genome edited plants of Gonja were generated and tested by Jaindra Tripathi, a Banana Transformation Specialist and Valentine Ntui, Plant Biotechnologist at IITA-Nairobi in collaboration with University of California, Davis, USA.
“The team found out that, when exposed to drought stress, 75% of the edited plants did not show any symptoms of banana streak virus compared to no edited plants, which confirmed that viral DNA was deactivated.
“The breakthrough was reported in a paper CRISPR/Cas9 editing of endogenous banana streak virus in the B genome of Musa spp. overcomes a major challenge in banana breeding published on Communications Biology website on 31 January 2019 plantains, and their close relative banana, are important staple food crops in tropical and subtropical countries.