Gene editing used to fight virus hiding inside bananas

February 04 , 2019

Genome editing has been used to destroy a virus that lurks inside many of the bananas grown in Africa, The New Scientist reported.

The banana streak virus can not only be spread from plant to plant by insects like most plant viruses. It also integrates its DNA into the banana’s genome.

In places like West Africa, where bananas are a staple food, most bananas have now the virus lurking inside them.

When these plants are stressed by heat or drought, the virus emerges from dormancy and causes outbreaks that can destroy plantations. 

But Leena Tripathi at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Kenya has now used the CRISPR genome editing method to target and destroy the viral DNA inside the genome of a banana variety called Gonja Manjaya.

The plan is to use these plants to breed virus-free plants for farmers. Her team is also using CRISPR to make the bananas resistant to the virus, so they are not simply re-infected.

But the legal status of genome-edited plants in the West African countries where Gonja Manjaya is grown remains uncertain.

“I think right now they are in discussions about whether it requires legislation,” Tripathi was quoted as saying.

The banana streak virus does not infect the popular Cavendish banana. but a fungal strain called Tropical Race 4 is devastating Cavendish plantations as it spreads around the world. Before the 1960s the most popular banana was the reportedly more delicious Gros Michel, which farmers had to stop growing because of the spread of another fungal strain called Tropical Race 1.

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