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Scientists say time is ripe to stop banana rot

BANANAS that go brown and rot in the heat may be a thing of the past thanks to genetic engineers at Zeneca, the biotechnology company that demerged from ICI a couple of years ago.

There is serious money in bananas - the US market alone is worth more than dollars 3bn a year - but nearly a quarter of the world's banana crop rots. Zeneca's scientists believe they know what is causing the rot: ethylene gas, which is naturally produced by ripening bananas.

The gas emitted by one overripe bunch in a container can cause all the fruit to ripen too fast and then rot.

Zeneca has found a way of genetically engineering tomato plants to delay the process by which the fruit goes soft. It hopes to introduce non-squidgy tomatoes to the British market - perhaps in the form of puree or ketchup - by the end of 1995.

According to Dr Peter Doyle, Zeneca's research director, the company may be able to transfer its expertise from tomatoes to bananas. Zenenca has teamed up with an American company, DNAP (DNA Plant Technology), to change the humble banana.

Dr Doyle said genetic engineering would lead to a greater variety of bananas in the shops.