Australia’s First Genetically Modified Fruit Sent for Government Approval
There’s a new banana in town, and it’s been genetically modified (GM). Scientists at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have developed the first GM banana in the world, a variety of Cavendish banana known as QCAV-4, designed to help save the species.
The GM version of the tropical fruit was engineered to withstand a fungus known as Panama Disease tropical race 4 (TR4), a threat to the $20 billion global banana industry, a press release from QUT said. The GM Cavendish has been submitted to the Australian government for regulatory approval.
QUT professor James Dale, who led the development of QCAV-4, and his team have been developing and growing the GM Cavendish variety for more than 20 years.
“The devastating Panama Disease TR4 is caused by a soil-borne fungus that stays in the ground for more than 50 years, wiping out banana crops and destroying farms for generations,” Dale said in the press release. “It is a huge problem. It has devastated Cavendish plantations in many parts of the world and could cripple the Cavendish banana export industry worldwide.”
If the new Cavendish banana variety is given the green light, it will become the first GM fruit approved for cultivation and consumption in Australia, reported The Guardian.
Dale estimates that there are between 300 and 1,000 types of bananas throughout the world, with the Cavendish variety making up about half of commercial production.
“It has some disease resistance, it’s high yielding, it tastes pretty good and it travels well,” Dale said, as The Guardian reported.
The team has been growing QCAV-4 bananas in field trials in Australia’s Northern Territory for more than six years and have found them to be highly resistant to TR4, the press release said.
“About 95 per cent of Australia’s bananas are grown in Queensland, and Cavendish banana accounts for 97 per cent of production,” Dale said in the press release. “Apart from providing a genuine protection against Panama Disease TR4 for the world’s export industry, QCAV-4 is a safety net for Australia’s $1.3 billion industry, which includes protected employment for 18,000 Queenslanders involved in banana production.”
TR4 has begun to get a foothold in South America after decimating the commercial Cavendish production in Asia.
“Eighty-five per cent of the world’s export bananas come from south and central America, and the other 15% come from the Philippines,” Dale said, as reported by The Guardian. “The Philippines is already dramatically affected by TR4. Once it got to Colombia, and then Peru and now Venezuela, that’s when the big exporters suddenly realised that this is really very serious.”
The bioengineered version of the banana combined the Cavendish Grand Nain variety with a single gene — RGA2 — from the southeast Asian banana Musa acuminata ssp malaccensis, according to the press release. The gene is already present but dormant in the Cavendish.
The regulatory authorities of the Australian Government, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator are currently assessing QCAV-4.
There are currently no plans to grow or sell QCAV-4 bananas to consumers in Australia, even if regulatory approval is successful.
“If the disease gets going [in Australia] like it has in the Philippines… we’ve got this banana in the back pocket and we’ll be able to pull it out,” said Leon Collins, chair of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, as The Guardian reported.
Subscribe to get exclusive updates in our daily newsletter!