Genes used to extend banana lifespan

Bananas never last very long -- within a few days of buying them, the rot sets in. But now Israeli scientists have found a way to significantly slow the decomposition down by altering the genes of the fruit.

Dr. Haya Friedman, a researcher at Israel’s Volcani Institute, also known as the Agricultural Research Organization (ARO), told Reuters that the genetically-altered bananas can stay fresh for at least double the time of normal bananas.

“You can see here that these are bananas that we changed the expression of the gene and which now the ripening is delayed. Where in control fruits the ripening is still developing as fast and normally. You have to understand that these fruits were picked more than a month ago,” she said, pointing at two bunches of bananas on the table in front of her, one is obviously blackened and the second is still freshly-looking yellow.”

Friedman’s research was initially based on previously-known findings in tomatoes. But it took these findings a step further to isolate the specific gene that drives the ageing process in bananas and interrupt its normal function.

“Even though there are like 80 genes of the same family, we found the gene that can control, that control the ripening and we were able to show that it’s really similar to what is happening in tomato, we can delay the ripening,” she said.

Volcani Institute is the research arm of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, where researchers work on practical breakthroughs to help, among other things, Israeli growers better ship their produce all over the world.

In this case, their work was focused on ways to extend the shelf life of fresh produce.

Lab tests show that the genetic intervention does not harm the bananas’ quality or taste, Dr. Friedman said. She now hopes to find ways to commercialize her findings to benefit farmers and wholesalers. More than that, she would like to see her work improve the lives of those living in developing countries, where nutrition is heavily dependent on fresh produce but facilities for cold transportation and storage are scarce.

“I think that this discovery will be very useful for developing countries because in developing countries, for the local population... they do not have means of transportation in cold or storage in cold, although the banana should not be stored in cold, but at 12 degrees it can be stored and it can last longer. But they don’t have the facilities. So I think a development like this is a great idea for developing countries. They will have food for a longer time.”