Botanists Pull Apart the Genes of Bananas to See How They Came Together

Banana genes reveal how they may have passed through other hybrid stages.

Bananas (Musa spp.) are a major staple food for hundreds of millions of people in developing countries. The cultivated varieties are seedless and parthenocarpic clones of which the ancestral origin remains to be clarified. The most important cultivars are triploids with an AAA, AAB or ABB genome constitution, with A and B genomes provided by M. acuminata and M. balbisiana, respectively. Previous studies suggested that inter-genome recombinations were relatively common in banana cultivars and that triploids were more likely to have passed through an intermediate hybrid. In this study, Alberto Cenci and colleagues investigated the chromosome structure within the ABB group, composed of starchy cooking bananas that play an important role in food security.

Image: Canva.

Recurrent homologous exchanges (HEs), i.e. chromatin exchanges between A and B subgenomes, were unravelled with at least nine founding events (HE patterns) at the origin of ABB bananas prior to clonal diversification. Two independent founding events were found for Pisang Awak genotypes. Two HE patterns, corresponding to genotypes Pelipita and Klue Teparod, show an over-representation of B genome contribution. Three HE patterns mainly found in Indian accessions shared some recombined regions and two additional patterns did not correspond to any known subgroups.

The discovery of the nine founding events allowed an investigation of the possible routes that led to the creation of the different subgroups, which resulted in new hypotheses. Based on our observations, we suggest different routes that gave rise to the current diversity in the ABB cultivars, routes involving primary AB hybrids, routes leading to shared HEs and routes leading to a B excess ratio. Genetic fluxes took place between M. acuminata and M. balbisiana, particularly in India, where these unbalanced AB hybrids and ABB allotriploids originated, and where cultivated M. balbisiana are abundant. The result of this study clarifies the classification of ABB cultivars, possibly leading to the revision of the classification of this subgroup.

“Compared with previous analysis methods to assess the genetic diversity of the banana gene pool, whole-genome surveying based on next-generation sequencing (NGS; RADSeq in this study) provides a detailed and exhaustive picture of the genome composition,” write Cenci and colleagues. “Therefore, we recommend complementing SSR-based characterization with NGS technologies such as RADSeq as a standard method to characterize banana gene bank accessions and to classify them in an objective, timely and repeatable way.”

Alex Assiry

Alex Assiry is an editorial assistant in the Annals of Botany Office. When not working, Alex listens for the opportunity to help.

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