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Gene Editing Can Save the Beloved Banana
Grocery store bananas, a staple for millions of American families, are currently facing extinction due to the deadly Tropical Race 4 (TR4) fungus, but gene editing might save them. The Cavendish banana is the most popular in the world, boasting an $8 billion-a-year export industry. TR4, which kills a banana by choking it of water and nutrients, is slowly spreading and should it reach Latin America, the world’s largest export of bananas, it’ll spell trouble for the global supply.
“Our concern ... is that if somebody has an outbreak on their property, they are going to keep their mouths shut, and then it’ll have spread widely by the time people realize it’s there,” says plant pathologist Dr. Randy Ploetz.
Researchers are using gene editing to create a TR4-resistant Cavendish banana. A recent three-year trial found that 67 to 100 percent of plants without the resistance gene injection either died from TR4 or were infected. Of the five plants that were given the resistance gene, four had significantly lower infection rates, while one showed no signs of disease at all. Another study of a larger area is underway. Scientists hope to see the finished product on sale by 2021.