Genome of a fruit besieged

The banana genome has been unpeeled. The genetic makeup of Musa acuminata, a fertile banana species that gave rise to the seedless Cavendish and other clonal varieties people eat today, sheds light on the plant’s evolutionary history and ripening process. This information may also help researchers boost the crop’s resistance to fungal and viral pathogens threatening its survival. M. acuminata has 36,542 protein-encoding genes and 235 genes that make small snippets of protein-regulating RNA, called microRNAs, an international team of researchers reports online July 11 in Nature. The team also found the genetic remains of a pathogen called the banana streak virus scattered on 10 of the banana’s 11 chromosomes. “It’s probably a footprint of an attack that was successful, but the banana somehow overcame it,” says Thomas Givnish, a plant ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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