Banana split: why gene editing will save the fruit from extinction
A fungus threatens to wipe out Earth’s fourth-most important crop, but a start-up may have the solution
When it comes to tropical fruits, Norwich probably isn’t the first place that springs to mind. But here, in a drab research park at the edge of the East Anglian city, a team of banana experts led by a former Israeli naval commander is working feverishly to save the fruit from extinction.
“Bananas are the fourth-most important food crop globally, it’s the most consumed and produced food,” says Gilad Gershon, chief executive of Tropic Biosciences. The start-up, which moved to Norwich in 2016, consists of a team of almost 50 scientists and researchers working on editing the genes of bananas to protect them against diseases.
It’s for a good reason. For more than 20 years, tropical race 4 (TR4), a soil-borne strain of the Fusarium wilt fungus, has been slowly making its way across the world from southeast Asia, threatening to wreak havoc on the global banana industry. In 2013, the fungus was discovered on a farm in northern Mozambique, before making its way to Colombia, where it was detected in 2019, leading to a national state of emergency. Bananas are a major crop and a mainstay of the country’s agricultural economy...