In the 1950s, Panama disease decimated the world's banana industry,
which was helped by the introduction of a new Cavendish variety.
However, a new race of the fungus, known as Tropical Race 4, recently
swept across the continents and through the Cavendish banana
plantations. All efforts to control the disease in Cavendish bananas
have, so far, failed.
Tropical Race 4 is of particular significance as Cavendish bananas
account for about 40 percent of world production and more than 90
percent of all exports. Now, scientists at the University of Exeter
provide hope that Panama disease can be controlled by a particular class
of fungicides. The Exeter research team led by Professors Gero Steinberg
and Sarah Gurr used a multi-disciplinary approach to better understand
why chemical control of Panama disease failed. By combining expertise in
cell and molecular biology, bioinformatics, and plant pathology, the
team revealed that all major classes of fungicides do not work against
the pathogen and provide insight into the molecular reason behind this
The researchers discovered that a more specialized class of fungicides,
not previously used, suppress Panama disease and maintain banana plant
health in the presence of the pathogen, opening new avenues to develop
efficient control strategies and providing a significant step in the
fight to protect this valuable crop.