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Stop the rot! How Norwich scientists could end the curse of blackened bananas

PUBLISHED: 15:08 14 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:23 14 November 2017

Norwich scientists are looking into how to stop bananas from ripening too quickly. Photo: Clive Gee/PA Wire

Norwich scientists are looking into how to stop bananas from ripening too quickly. Photo: Clive Gee/PA Wire

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It is a problem that can drive us all bananas.

Chief executive Gilad Gershon and senior scientist Angela Chapparro-Garcia of The Tropic Biosciences team. Photo: Tropic Biosciences Chief executive Gilad Gershon and senior scientist Angela Chapparro-Garcia of The Tropic Biosciences team. Photo: Tropic Biosciences

But scientists in Norwich are embarking on a project that could save our skin.

The researchers at Tropic Biosciences, based at Norwich Research Park, have got money to fund work that could help banana growers keep their produce fresh for longer and make them more resistant to disease.

And the welcome side-effect for all those who like to eat the fruit is that it could banish blackened bananas from our bowls.

The researchers will use genome-editing techniques to create the new characteristics in the Cavendish variety of banana, which accounts for 99% of global exports. The £128,000 project is part-funded with £60,000 from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative.

Currently growers harvest bananas at only 80-85% of their maximum size to make it in time to market. Despite this, losses in transportation still account for 15-20% of total shipped volume. Extending the banana’s ‘Green Phase’ (before ripening) would allow a significant increase in harvest sizes and reduce wastage.

If untreated fungal diseases can reduce commercial banana crop yields by over 50%. Currently, growers use chemical fungicides which require 20–60 treatments per year and account for 20-30% of total production costs.

Increasing the plants’ natural tolerance would reduce the need for hazardous chemicals and improve the livelihood and health conditions of growers and their families.

Tropic is already undertaking a project to develop new, commercially beneficial traits in coffee. The company will hire two additional staff in Norwich for the banana project, and potentially expand its operation by up to four new full-time employees by December 2018.

Dr Eyal Maori and Gilad Gershon, founders of Tropic Biosciences, said: “We are excited to further collaborate with the Eastern AgriTech team and launch this exciting new project from our labs at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. This generous grant will allow us to recruit additional researchers to join our team and expedite our efforts to bring our products to the market.”

Doug Field, Chairman of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The team at Tropic Biosciences have provided another example of the globally significant research taking place right here in the East. This project could have a profound and positive impact on banana production worldwide and is worthy of support from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative.”

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