WASHINGTON, D.C., 19 July 2001 - Scientists from 11 countries today announced the founding of an international consortium to sequence the banana genome within five years. The scientists from governmental, university, and nonprofit organizations will use the new genetic data to enable developing-world farmers to grow bananas that are able to resist the fungus "Black Sigatoka," as well as other diseases and pests. Bananas are a staple food for nearly half a billion people worldwide, but their crops are increasingly lost to disease. The genome sequence will also benefit U.S. and European consumers of the popular dessert banana, one of the world's most chemically dependent crops.
"Ancient farmers selected banana strains that were seedless and thus sterile, and grew the fruit through vegetative sprouting," said Emile Frison, PhD, director of the Montpellier, France-based International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain. "Cultivated bananas have, therefore, been at a near evolutionary standstill for thousands of years and lack the genetic diversity needed to fight off disease. A coordinated effort by scientists worldwide is needed to unlock the diversity found in bananas that still grow and reproduce in the wild."
The International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP), a program of the Rome-based International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), is leading the effort, which brings together organizations from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The newly founded "Global Musa (Banana) Genomics Consortium" includes the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Nigeria. IPGRI and IITA are Future Harvest Centers. The Consortium also includes the Instit
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