Saving UK’s best-loved fruit: immunity diversity in banana

DEVEGA_E21CASE

Bananas used to taste very different! In the 1950s, the “Panama disease” (a devastating fungal vascular disease in bananas) annihilated the dominant export banana variety ‘Gros Michel’ and caused significant instability in Central and South American economies until its replacement with the ‘Cavendish’ variety that we all know. History is dramatically repeating itself. A new race, TR4, has devastated Cavendish plantations in Asia and was firstly identified in America in Colombia in 2019. Banana cultivars are a staple food for more than 400 million people worldwide and farmers face an imminent risk and require resilient crops.

This project is a collaboration between the Earlham Institute (Norwich) and an established Norwich-based biotechnology company developing crop varieties for the tropical agriculture value-chain. The partnership offers the student the opportunity to experience both academic and industrial research environments.

This PhD project will answer fundamental questions on the diversity of immunity NLR receptors in bananas and plantains (Species of the Musa genus), and the relation of this diversity with ploidy, genome composition and response to Panama disease. The project will identify candidate genes to contribute to developing resistant varieties.

The student will be part of the growing cohort of PhD students working in genomics and bioinformatics at Earlham Institute. The student will acquire valuable in-demand skills in bioinformatics, particularly large-scale comparative genomics and transcriptomics analyses, as well as developing experimental skills in plant sciences, such as tissue culture, in vitro propagation, and infection bioassays.

References:

Michelmore, R. W., Christopoulou, M., & Caldwell, K. S. (2013). Impacts of resistance gene genetics, function, and evolution on a durable future. Annual review of phytopathology, 51, 291-319.

Ploetz, R. C. (2015). Management of Fusarium wilt of banana: A review with special reference to tropical race 4. Crop Protection, 73, 7-15

Van de Weyer, A. L., Monteiro, F., Furzer, O. J., Nishimura, M. T., Cevik, V., Witek, K., … & Bemm, F. (2019). A species-wide inventory of NLR genes and alleles in Arabidopsis thaliana. Cell, 178(5), 1260-1272.