Abiotic Stresses
Bananas are susceptible to a wide range of abiotic stresses such as excess salinity, heat, flood and water shortage stresses.

Many of these cause serious production constraints and are considered to be a major burden to sustainable production. Much of the injury caused to plants by stress exposure appears to result from a type of programmed cell death known as apoptosis. Based on this knowledge, we have been investigating whether the transgenic expression of anti-apoptosis genes in bananas would confer resistance to abiotic stresses, specifically water stress. We have transformed Lady finger bananas with different anti-apoptosis genes and several of the lines generated were found to be more tolerant to water stress than the wild-type control plants. We are currently in the process of further refining the strategy through the use of plant-and/or plant virus-derived anti-apoptosis genes. The development of bananas with increased resistance to water, and possibly other abiotic stresses, will enable the cultivation of bananas in areas when and/or where water availability is sub-optimal.

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The vast majority of the bananas currently grown and consumed were not conventionally bred but are selections made over probably thousands of years from naturally occurring hybrids. Cultivated bananas are very nearly sterile and as a consequence are not propagated from seed but rather through vegetative propagation, primarily suckers as well as more recently micropropagated or tissue cultured bananas. These factors, very old selections, near sterility and vegetative propagation, mean that these bananas have not been genetically improved either for resistance or improved quality and are becoming increasing in affected by serious pests and diseases.

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