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GM bananas

Uganda has launched field trials of its own genetically modified (GM) bananas in an effort to counter a disease that is devastating plantations in the Great Lakes region of Africa. The GM bananas are genetically engineered to resist the Xanthomonas musacearum or BXW, a wilt-causing bacterium that destroys the entire plant. Scientists at the National Banana Research Program in Kampala, led by Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, obtained three banana varieties resistant to BXW by transferring two different sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum) genes into bananas—one encoding the hypersensitivity response–assisting protein and another the plant ferredoxin like protein. Results from the field tests, carried out at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories Institute in Kawanda, are expected by the end of 2011. “The next step is a multilocation field trial that will take a further two years,” says Leena Tripathi, a biotechnologist from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nairobi, Kenya, also involved in the project. Support comes from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, African Agricultural Technology Foundation and USAID. The transgene patent holder, Taiwan's Academia Sinica based in Taipei, issued a royalty-free license for commercial production in sub-Saharan Africa. “Crop scientists in the country are making significant progress for both GM banana and drought-tolerant maize. Parliament should now pass the biosafety law needed to permit an eventual release of these improved varieties to farmers,” says Robert Paarlberg, a policy analyst at Wellesley College, Massachusetts. Anna Meldolesi

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GM bananas. Nat Biotechnol 29, 472 (2011).

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