Zeneca acts to save our favourite banana

ZENECA, the UK pharmaceuticals and agrichemicals group, has stepped in to save the British banana. Not that we grow more than the odd bunch for scientific purposes - but for the past 36 years we have developed a taste for the Cavendish banana, with its sweet flavour, disease-resistance and high yield.

However, as in so many other areas, the fungi are getting stronger and it is becoming more and more expensive to keep the Cavendish in good health - it can need as many as 15 doses of fungicidal spray. Then untold bunches end up feeding the flatfish on the Atlantic sea bed because one rotten banana ripens the rest too early.

The result is that the Cavendish is under threat. Phillip Rowe, an American banana-ologist, has had teams of technicians cross-pollinating bananas in Honduras for the past 20 years and has produced a new rival, the ominously named Goldfinger. That refers not just to its colour: Dr Rowe has a budget of $1m (£625,000) a year and is supported by the leading banana importers.

The trouble is, as Dr Rowe reluctantly admits, that while Goldfinger is a world-beating fungus-fighter and does not turn brown, taste panels have described it as "acidic" and "starchy".

But while Dr Rowe sets off on a new round of cross-pollination, Zeneca may have come to the Cavendish's rescue - and opened the way for British banana lovers to sample more exotic Asian varieties hitherto too weak to make the journey to the UK.

In collaboration with the Katholieke Universiteit at Leuven in Belgium, Zeneca scientists have found that certain plants protect their seed from fungi by generating anti-fungal proteins (AFPs). They have located the genes that produce AFPs and are transferring them to commercial crops such as oil seed rape and Cavendish bananas.

Zeneca has the patent rights for this process, and Sarah Rees, the project leader, said: "I am particularly impressed by the smooth and speedy way in which we have moved from basic research to the prospect of commercialisation."

The British company is also working with DNA Plant Technology Corporation of Oakland, California, to develop bananas with superior ripening characteristics. Bananas are grown in the tropics and harvested while still green. When they land, they are sprayed with ethylene to start the ripening process.

A Zeneca spokeswoman said: "By slowing the Cavendish's tendency to ripen, growers will be able to leave it on the plant longer, improving its flavour and nutrititional value. This will also permit the export of speciality bananas previously unsuitable for shipping."

Zeneca is concentrating on saving the Cavendish, while DNAPTC is working to develop strains previously unknown in Britain or the US, such as the Ice Cream - which has a delicious, unmistakable vanilla flavour.

But a spokesman for Geest, which with Fyffes is one of the two biggest importers into Britain, said bitterly: "We bring our bananas from the Caribbean, where the biggest threat is not fungus but hurricane." Last September, a tropical storm in the Windward Islands slashed banana output by 40 per cent.

Suggested Topics
Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Oil & Energy Business Anaylst

£45000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Harrington Sta...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment