Findings of a new study, published in the journal Communications Biology have shown that genome editing using CRISPR/Cas9 technique destroys banana streak virus in the genome of Gonja Manjaya, a banana variety commonly grown in East and Central Africa. This development could be a breakthrough in developing plantains resistant to the virus, a pathogen that threatens to wipe out the crop considered one of Africa’s staple foods.

Banana streak virus is widespread in Africa as it is reported in most banana and plantain-growing countries. The virus sequences integrate into Musa balbisiana species and remain in a stage of dormancy. When the banana plants are stressed – as a result of heat, drought or breeding – the virus becomes active, rapidly spreads and can devour a whole plantation.

A team of scientists led by Leena Tripathi, a Principal Scientist in Plant Biotechnology at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), used CRISPR/Cas9 to knock out the streak virus in the B genome in the variety and consequently make it free from the virus’ activatable sequences.

“Seventy-five percent of the edited events remained asymptomatic in comparison to the non-edited control plants under water stress conditions, confirming inactivation of endogenous banana streak virus into infectious viral particles,” said the study.

The research was aimed at silencing the pathogen in plants that will be used in breeding virus-free crops for farmers. In vitro culture for propagation and hybridization through conventional breeding may trigger brown streak virus activation thus the virus is considered a major constraint in banana breeding programs. These results, therefore, may signal an important strategy for both improving plantains and enabling global dissemination of the resulting hybrids with improved B genome.

For more on the research contact: Leena Tripathi at