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Gene to fight banana wilt found

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The Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, AATF's scientists are developing a gene that would lead to new banana varieties resistant to the bacterial wilt.

The gene has previously been used to combat diseases in tobacco, tomato, broccoli, orchids and rice.

Speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Peter Werehire, the publications officer at the AATF said in the last five years, the disease has spread in the entire Eastern and Central African countries of Uganda, Eastern Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

"So, the National Agricultural Research Organisation and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture sought to access candidate genes for conferring resistance against the wilt. One such gene was the plant ferrodoxin-like protein gene from sweet pepper," he said.

Werehire said the banana bacterial wilt disease, caused by Xanthomonas campestrispv. Musacearum, is spread through the use of infected banana planting materials, infected cutting tools, vectors and browsing animals.

"When the disease strikes, the leaves of the infected plants first turn dull green before they become scalded. The plants start wilting and the bunches show uneven and premature ripening of fruit," he said.

It has been found to be very destructive with incidence of 70-80% in many plantations and yield losses of 90% have been reported on some farms.

In Uganda for example, the potential national loss is estimated at USD 360 million annually (or 90% of banana’s contribution to the country’s GDP). He said preliminary laboratory tests indicate that transgenic banana plants appear to be resistant to the wilt.

[News Source]

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