Banana agronomy – can unravelling the Musa genome help?

D.W. Turner, J.A. Fortescue, J.W. Daniells
Unravelling the Musa genome allows genes and alleles linked to desired traits to be identified. Short stature and early flowering are desirable agronomic features of banana, as they are of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). In wheat they were achieved through knowledge of the physiology and genetics of vernalization and photoperiod during development. Bananas and plantains have a facultative long-day response to photoperiod, as do wheat and wall cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). Using keyword searches of the genome of Musa acuminata 'Pahang' we found homologues of the genes of either T. aestivum or Arabidopsis that govern responses to vernalization and photoperiod. This knowledge needs to be interpreted in the context of plant development. Bananas have juvenile, mid-vegetative and reproductive phases of development. Leaf and bunch 'clocks' operate concurrently throughout the juvenile and mid-vegetative phases. In the mid-vegetative phase the plant becomes sensitive to photoperiod. Increased sensitivity to photoperiod reduces the overall pace of the bunch clock without affecting the leaf clock. Separation of the clocks changes the link between leaf number and time of flowering. The 'critical' quantitative trait for the time of flowering is the pace of the bunch clock up to bunch initiation. For bunch size it is the duration of the subsequent phase of female hand formation. Plants with either a short juvenile phase or a faster bunch clock in the mid-vegetative phase will produce fewer leaves and bunch early. In turn, independent manipulation of hand number per bunch and/or fruit per hand will provide manageable bunches with appropriate fruit size. Using published data we explore relationships between plant height, leaf number, bunch weight and hand number among bananas and plantains. Identifying and then manipulating the appropriate genes in Musa opens opportunities for earlier flowering, leading to plants with desirable agronomic qualities.
Turner, D.W., Fortescue, J.A. and Daniells, J.W. (2016). Banana agronomy – can unravelling the Musa genome help?. Acta Hortic. 1114, 245-260
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1114.34
Arabidopsis, bunch size, leaf number, photoperiod, plantain, Triticum, vernalization

Acta Horticulturae