First GM banana release takes aim at Panama disease

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First GM banana release takes aim at Panama disease

The Australian government issued the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) official authorization to commercially release a new genetically modified (GM) Cavendish banana variety.

The QCAV-4 banana is the world’s first GM banana to be approved for commercial production, as well as the first Australian GM fruit approved for growing in Australia.

The new cultivar was developed in hopes of fighting the devastating effects of the Panama Disease tropical race 4 (TR4), which threatens the global US$20 billion banana industry.

“(TR4) is killing Cavendish bananas in Australia and in many other countries. It’s spreading and it’s getting worse,” says QUT Distinguished Professor James Dale.

Professor Dale and his team have been working on developing and growing genetically modified Cavendish bananas for more than 20 years.

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“The QCAV-4 bananas have been analyzed and we’ve compared them to the ordinary Cavendish. They have exactly the same composition, so we don’t expect them to taste any different whatsoever. However, we will be setting up independent tasting panels in the near future,” adds Dale.

The professor explains that the new variety only has one different gene and that its shelf-life should be similar to traditional Cavendish bananas as well. Dale’s team also observed on the field that the QCAV-4 matures in the same way.

Regarding the cultivar’s resistance to the TR4, Dale explains that QCAV-4 contains a gene taken from a wild banana which was completely resistant to the disease.

“What we've ended up with looks like Cavendish but it's resistant to TR4 just from one single gene,” he adds.

The wild-resistant banana gives very low yields and is “stuff full of seed”, Dale explains, making it unsuitable for growing commercially. 

Cavendish bananas are the most popular banana in the world, and is estimated that around 50% of all banana production globally is of this variety.

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