Biobanana is the collective name for a group of collaborative projects studying the genes, genome and diversity of banana, and developing methods and breeding lines to exploit the genome for the benefit of small-holder or resource-poor farmers and the environment as well as researchers.

Pat Heslop-Harrison's lecture at the Society of Biology Regional Annual General Meeting in November 2010 on "Bananas, genetics and appropriate biotechnology" is linked here - a 10 Mb pdf so it may take a few minutes to download, but I thought people would like to see the high resolution photos.

I also demonstrated a simple DNA extraction protocol. Originally, I was planning to blend about a quarter of a banana with a half cup of water, but actually used a 'Smoothie' drink as the source of the DNA. About four tablespoons (60 ml) of this mixture was added to two teaspoonfuls of hair shampoo (10 ml) and two pinches (0.5 ml volume) of salt. This was stirred gently for 1 min, then filtered through a coffee filter. After 30 min, I estimated how much liquid had come through the filter and added about four times this volume of alcohol sprit (actually I used Irish Poteen, but vodka, rum etc. would have worked, using a strong one with 50% or so alcohol content). The DNA preciptates out of solution as a stringy mass which can be spooled out on a plastic fork. DNA is a long, stringy molecule. The salt helps it stick together. There are many sources of similar experiments on the web (search "banana DNA extraction", including youtube films. In my experience, a shampoo (which contains sodium citrate, EDTA and SDS or SLS - sodium dodecly/lauryl sulfate) is best to use, and it is better if the alcohol is ice cold. Using the "Smoothie" - which I tried along with mashed banana for the first time the afternoon before the lecture - saved several minutes and extra fuss!

A paper on Genomics, Economics and Bananas was presented at the OECD meeting on Tropical Fruits in November 2008. Here is link to a PDF of that paper.

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We are involved in the International Generation Challenge Programme - see and are a subcontractor to INIBAP, the International Network for Bananas and Plantains. A number of Fellows have visited our laboratory and have been supported by the Generation CP either for consumables of expenses. Professor Asha Nair (Commonwealth Scholarship,. University of Kerala, India, October 2004-April 2005), Dhariasheel Desai, Ojay Benedict, Suresh Kumar have been the major fellows so far.

Another project involves the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Authority) on vegetatively propagated crops.

Introduction to Musa and Bananas

Musa (bananas and plantains) are the fourth most important crop in developing countries: the fruit is a staple food in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central America and much of Asia, while leaves are used for shelter and wrapping food and the male bud can be eaten as a vegetable. Details of the crop are here.

The University of Leicester, represented by Pat Heslop-Harrison,  is one of the participants in the Global Musa Genomics Consortium coordinated by the international network for improvement of banana, INIBAP, and supports FutureHarvest. The project is organized as a 'Virtual Institute' where some 20 research teams based around the world coordinate their research on Musa genomics with the aims of understanding the genes, genome structure and biodiversity in the genus and using this knowledge to benefit small-scale banana farmers worldwide and reduce reliance on chemicals in commercial production.

Our work in 2004

Our work using in situ hybridization has shown the integration of the Banana Streak Virus, BSV, a pararetrovirus, into the nuclear DNA of banana accessions, where data indicate that it can be expressed. Further work on the pararetrovirus project is included in an EU project, PARADIGM

We have a British Council Higher Education LINK project (FICHE) with University of Malaya. 364: UTILIZATION OF BANANA BIODIVERSITY FOR THE CREATION OF HIGH YIELDING BANANA CULTIVARS FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AND POVERTY ERADICATION. A course was held in Malaysia in January 2004 on in situ hybridization for germplasm evaluation. The website shows photographs of the course.

A series of protocols are being developed for wider application in the context of this course.

Banana Background

The virtually sterile, parthenocarpic triploids are very difficult to breed and the major variety grown for export, Cavendish, was collected from the wild in China in the 1820s; there are a few variants recognized such as Dwarf Cavendish and Williams Cavendish, but it is virtually unchanged since then (see for more on the history of the cultivated banana). Export varieties and most subsistence crops of bananas are triploid with 2n=3x=33 chromosomes.Press release

Press release about the genomic musa consortium - PDF file


This was developed by many international and local journals

Global Musa Genomics Consortium

2004 Contributions of Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison and colleagues, University of Leicester UK     

Feedback and questions

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Pat Heslop-Harrison, Department of Biology, University of Leicester LE1 7RH UK