Background: Cultivated bananas and plantains are giant herbaceous plants within the genus Musa. They are both sterile and parthenocarpic so the fruit develops without seed. The cultivated hybrids and species are mostly triploid (2n = 3x = 33; a few are diploid or tetraploid), and most have been propagated from mutants found in the wild. With a production of 100 million tons annually, banana is a staple food across the Asian, African and American tropics, with the 15 % that is exported being important to many economies.
Scope: There are well over a thousand domesticated Musa cultivars and their genetic diversity is high, indicating multiple origins from different wild hybrids between two principle ancestral species. However, the difficulty of genetics and sterility of the crop has meant that the development of new varieties through hybridization, mutation or transformation was not very successful in the 20th century. Knowledge of structural and functional genomics and genes, reproductive physiology, cytogenetics, and comparative genomics with rice, Arabidopsis and other model species has increased our understanding of Musa and its diversity enormously.
Conclusions: There are major challenges to banana production from virulent diseases, abiotic stresses and new demands for sustainability, quality, transport and yield. Within the genepool of cultivars and wild species there are genetic resistances to many stresses. Genomic approaches are now rapidly advancing in Musa and have the prospect of helping enable banana to maintain and increase its importance as a staple food and cash crop through integration of genetical, evolutionary and structural data, allowing targeted breeding, transformation and efficient use of Musa biodiversity in the future.
Annals of Botany (2007) 100 (5) 1073-1084 [doi: 10.1093/aob/mcm191]