Genomics of Panama disease

Banana is one of our most favourite fruits. Bananas world-wide are threatened by an aggressive fungal disease, called Panama disease. With the use of comparative genomics, we aim to unravel how the fungus became such a threat.

Bananas are the most popular fruits of the world. They are consumed as a ‘luxury’ fruit, but more importantly serve as a crucial staple crop in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As any other global crop that is mainly grown in monocultures, bananas are threatened by a multitude of pathogens.

During the 1960s, a fungal pathogen - Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense - caused Panama disease. This disease rapidly wiped out the global banana production, which was based on a single, genetically uniform banana variety. This variety was replaced by the resistant “Cavendish” bananas, which since then developed into a global food commodity. During the last decade, a novel lineage of F. oxysporum f.sp. cubense that aggressively colonizes the “Cavendish” banana clones emerged in South-East Asia and rapidly spreads through Asia, East-Africa and the Near- and Middle East.

Developing sustainable disease management strategies requires in-depth understanding of the epidemiology, genetic diversity and pathogenicity of F. oxysporum f.sp. cubense. Therefore, ongoing research aims to get fundamental insights into the genome evolution of this pathogen, and to decipher genomic differences between the newly emerged clone and its historic counterparts. In particular, we want to understand which alterations or novel molecular tools enable this emerging lineage to overcome plant defenses. To this end, we recently performed whole-genome sequencing of multiple F. oxysporum f.sp. cubense isolates using PacBio and Illumina-sequencing, generating high-quality genome assemblies of multiple isolates with distinct geographic origin and differences in their capacity to cause disease on “Cavendish” bananas. Moreover, we obtained large-scale gene expression information from banana and from the pathogen to further facilitate our analyses.

The research is performed in close collaboration with the group of Prof. dr. Gert Kema (link), Special Professor for Tropical Phytopathology, Wageningen University.

Additonal information regarding Panama disease:

Ordonez N, Seidl MF et al. 2015. Worse Comes to Worst: Bananas and Panama Disease-When Plant and Pathogen Clones Meet. PLoS Pathogens 11:e1005197 (link)

Panama Disease (link) and (link)