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Life saving bananas!

Primary Supervisor: Professor Murray Grant, School of Life Sciences

Secondary supervisor: Dr Steve Jackson

PhD project title: Life saving bananas!

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Bananas (Musa spp.) are one of the world’s top agricultural commodities and the 5th most important staple food crop globally. More bananas are produced and consumed in East Africa than in any region of the world, accounting for 1/3 of global production and constituting a staple crop for 50% of the population. Annual consumption can exceed 400kg per person, accounting for up to 25% of the daily calorific intake.

However, banana production is severely constrained by many pests and pathogens, which often co-exist. Since bananas are propagated clonally there are limited sources of resistance. While addressing disease resistance in banana is important, there is an elephant in the room. Bananas are low in Vitamin A, iron. UNICEF estimates more than 40% of African children experience stunted growth, accompanied by preventable childhood blindness due to VitA deficiency. Following the onset of blindness, ~50% of will die within a year.

The scope for using banana to improve human nutrition and health is enormous but as most edible bananas are sterile, genetic modification - or better still “Gene Editing” is the only realistic option. Fortunately, both the sterility issue and the clonal mode of propagation minimizes the possible risk of environmental contamination by gene flow from transgenic bananas to other bananas or crop species.

This project will use recently developed gene editing methods and a new facility for tissue culture at Warwick to improve banana VitA deficiency using both conventional and radically new approaches. The project will dovetail with ongoing work looking at two devastating diseases of banana, Xanthomonas Banana Wilt and Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 and benefit from our in-house high quality genome sequences of banana and Ensete, a banana like plant orphan to Ethiopia. The project will combine biochemistry, gene cloning, tissue culture and banana fruit transcriptomics with metabolomics to address one of the major human health challenges in the world.

References:

  1. CRISPR/Cas9-based genome editing of banana for disease resistance Tripathi et al. Curr. Op. Plant Biol. 2020, 56:118–126 doi.org/10.1016/j.pbi.2020.05.003
  2. Carotenoid-rich bananas: a potential food source for alleviating vitamin A deficiency. Englberger et al. (2003) Food Nutr Bull 24:303. doi:10.1177/156482650302400401.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food: Plant & Crop Science. Integrated Understanding of Health: Diet and Health. Renewable Resources and Clean Growth:Industrial Biotechnology

      Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

      • GoldenGate cloning of VitA biosynthetic modules (Syn Bio).

      • Gene editing of banana.

      • Metabolomics. Using both untargeted profiling and developing multiple reaction monitoring protocols to access edited banana plants and validate re-engineered constructs.

      • Data analysis: metabolomics and transcriptomics of developing banana fruit

      Contact: Professor Murray Grant, University of Warwick