Banana is one of the most ancient fruit crops. It originated in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region and is believed to have first been domesticated more than 7000 BP. East and Central Africa are secondary centres of diversity.
Most cultivated bananas do not produce seeds, so accessions have to be preserved as tissue cultures in vitro and in field genebanks. Genesys lists over 2,500 accessions. The vast majority are held at Bioversity International’s International Transit Centre in Belgium, with smaller collections in Australia, Nigeria and USA. About 11% of the accessions listed in Genesys are wild relatives. While the fruit of most of these is inedible, they are very important in efforts to breed new varieties. Bioversity also maintains ProMusa, a portal with the latest news, research results and general knowledge about bananas.
Because bananas are multiplied vegetatively, all the individuals in a plantation may be genetically identical clones. This makes banana plantations highly susceptible to outbreaks of pests and diseases. The threat to internationally-traded varieties from new races of pathogens has created worldwide alarm and a drive to develop resistant varieties. Another target of banana breeding is to create varieties that offer better nutrition. This is especially important where bananas are a staple crop, or used to wean children onto solid food. Efforts are focused on increasing levels of vitamin A precursors.
A global strategy for the conservation and use of Musa genetic resources was prepared in 2007. These strategies identify actions to better understand the diversity of Musa species and thus identify potential uses in breeding, and opportunities to improve the management of existing collections.