Science - February 2, 2010

Quick DNA test detects Panama disease in bananas

Plant Research International and the Brazilian research organization Embrapa have developed a DNA test that can quickly detect the Panama disease in banana plants. The method takes a day to determine whether the most destructive strain of the Fusarium fungus, Tropical Race 4, is present in the banana plant. This fungus is capable of infecting and destroying nearly all the banana plantations in the world.

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The current detection method takes four months because the fungus always needs to be cultivated and analysed genetically during the investigation. The new method uses a sensitive technique that allows any fungal DNA in the plant matter to be detected within a day. The time gained in this way will make it easier to prevent the disease from spreading, says researcher Gert Kema.
No banana variety is resistant to Tropical Race 4 (TR4). It is also impossible to stamp out the fungus once it has entered the plant. That is why it is important to be able to track down a TR4 infection quickly; that way, the plantation owners can remove the infected plants from the plantation immediately to prevent the fungus from spreading further.
The researchers published the method last month online in the journal Plant Pathology. Labs around the world can now make use of it without having to pay any patent charges.

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