These gene-edited bananas never brown, offering hope against Panama disease

An agricultural-biotechnology company claims its ‘non-browning’ bananas may be the solution to the Panama disease.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image


Bananas turning brown is a natural process that occurs over time as the fruit overripens and produces too much ethylene. The turning of yellow pigments to brown is called enzymatic browning and is aided by high amounts of ethylene. 

While there have been no known health issues arising from eating bananas that have turned brown, they taste too sweet and turn moldy and start to smell unpleasant soon enough.

Tropic, an agricultural-biotechnology company, claims to have solved this issue. They have created a variety of bananas using gene editing technology to develop disease-resistant bananas that don’t turn brown and can also solve the Panama disease problem.

Panama disease, also called Panama disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4), is a serious banana disease and is one of the most severe threats facing the banana industry in the world today.

There had been no known cure or varieties of bananas that were resistant to the disease until now.

Tropic’s ‘non-browning’ bananas have also received the go-ahead from the Philippines Department of Agriculture, which has a rigorous gene editing regulatory determination process, said the company in a statement.

Gene-edited bananas could also reduce CO2 emissions by 25%

The statement further said that Tropic’s non-browning bananas could potentially reduce food waste and CO2 emissions by over 25 percent, given that over 60 percent of the exported bananas become diseased or go to waste before reaching the consumer. The gene-edited bananas could support reducing greenhouse emissions equivalent to removing 2 million passenger vehicles from the road each year.

The company hopes their non-browning bananas can soon be freely imported into the Philippines, one of Southeast Asia's top producers and exporters. The country saw its global market share in the banana industry drop significantly due to the Panama TR4.

Panama TR4 is a big problem in countries like Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Mozambique, Pakistan, and India, among others. It is estimated that over 80 percent of the global production of bananas has come under the threat of Panama TR4, caused by a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum that lives in the soil. The fungus cannot be eradicable and has the potential to survive in the soil for decades.

Symptoms of Panama TR4 in banana plants include leaf yellowing and wilting. As the disease progresses, the symptoms become harsher. The leaf margins and the base of the older leaves will start turning brown.

“The Philippines government has implemented a science-based, transparent, and efficient process for assessing the safety of gene-edited plants.  This is exactly the type of system that encourages companies like Tropic to invest in innovative technologies to develop sustainable solutions for Filipino farmers,” said Tropic’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Ofir Meir, in the statement.

Tropic is currently in the business of developing healthier and more robust varieties of tropical crops like bananas, coffee, and rice. The booming population brings a drastic food security and supply chain crisis which is intensified by climate change and economic factors, added the company statement.

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