A collaborative research team led by Distinguished Professor James Dale—ARC Discovery Projects scheme grant recipient based at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), has developed and grown modified Cavendish bananas that are resistant to the devastating soil-borne ‘Panama disease’, Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4).

The team included key research partner Professor Rob Harding as well as ARC Australian Laureate Fellows, Professors Peter Waterhouse and Kerrie Mengersen.

TR4 fungus, a disease for which no effective control strategies existed until now, threatens the food security of more than 400 million people around the world who rely on bananas as a source of food, and Australia’s commercial banana industry, which relies on the Cavendish variety of banana.

The commercial plant is propagated asexually, so has very little genetic variety. Working with industry partner, Lamanna Bananas Pty Ltd, the researchers developed transgenic banana plants with resistance to TR4. To improve the banana’s disease resistance, the researchers added a gene taken from a wild banana, and in a field trial the modified bananas showed robust resistance, with one new variant remaining completely disease free.

The research is a major step towards protecting the US$12 billion Cavendish global export business, which is under serious threat from the virulent TR4 disease.

Image: QUT Distinguished Professor James Dale holding a Panama disease resistant banana plant.
Image credit: Queensland University of Technology.