Bananas may go extinct soon, but DNA sequencing will (likely) prevent it

A fungus that has been threatening banana crops for many years could bring the fruit to the point of extinction within the next ten years. That is, if researchers don't find a way to combat the fungus in a way that it can't adapt to overcome, which is the subject of a newly published study in PLOS. Most commonly referred to by the disease it causes — black leaf streak disease — the fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis is the most harrowing pathogen in the banana industry, but thanks to recent work decoding its genome, there may be a way to stop it.

The study details work performed by a team of researchers from the Netherlands' Wageningen University & Research Centre and the University of California, Davis. Using genome sequencing, the researchers were able to peer into the fungi's DNA and find out what makes it tick, so to speak. The aforementioned disease is the result of three fungus pathogens in total, the other two being Pseudocercospora musae and Pseudocercospora eumusae.

Black sigatoka is particularly troublesome among the three, as it is spread via the air and can thusly make its way to a massive number of banana plants within any given plantation. Even worse, the world's most popularly consumed banana is the most affected by this disease.

Plantation workers must treat the plantations with chemical fungicides to prevent the black leaf disease from destroying the entire crop, but as the study points out, the frequency with which these treatments are applied results in the fungus evolving new strains that aren't susceptible – or as susceptible — to the fungicides.

This arrangement presents many issues as-is, including reduced quality of life among plantation workers who have to deal with these chemical fungicides, poor fruit quality, and, of course, the risk that one day a fungus strain may arise that can't be stopped with fungicides, devastating banana crops around the world. The banana industry produces about 140 million tons of the fruit every year, which is currently the fourth global food staple.

The devastation of losing banana plantations would be huge, but thanks to the work of some researchers, it may be avoided. The team managed to sequence the Pseudocercospora fungi's DNA and, in doing so, has shed light on how the fungus interacts with banana plants. Knowing this, a different variety of the most commonly produced banana plant could be developed that is naturally resistant to the fungus, eliminating the need to use massive quantities of fungicides.

VIA: Science Daily