Mutated bananas could hold the key to Australia’s banana industry future

Trials of ‘mutated bananas’ on a research farm in the Northern Territory are being watched closely by Australia’s $600 million banana industry.

It is hoped these banana plants will be resistant to the deadly Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which wiped out the NT’s banana industry in the 1990s and in recent years has been discovered in Queensland’s Tully Valley.

The Northern Territory has been at the forefront of TR4 research for a number of years and was making excellent progress until 2015, when all of the research trials were destroyed during the eradication program for another banana disease, Banana Freckle.

The Coastal Plains research station near Darwin is now permitted to grow bananas again, and over the past two years has trialled 27 varieties, which showed some promising results.

Partnering with the Queensland Government and with funding from Hort Innovation, there are now two lines of mutated varieties in the ground and more will soon be planted.

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It might sound like something out of an X-Men movie, but radiation has long been used by plant breeders to speed up natural processes, with researchers now hoping it can unlock answers to making TR4-resistant bananas that are edible.