Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum, is the most devastating disease of banana in the Great Lakes region of Africa. The pathogen's rapid spread has threatened the livelihood of millions of Africans who rely on banana fruit for food security and income. The disease is very destructive, infecting all banana varieties, including both East African Highland bananas and exotic types of banana. In the absence of natural host plant resistance among banana cultivars, the constitutive expression of the hypersensitivity response-assisting protein (Hrap) gene from sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum) was evaluated for its ability to confer resistance to BXW. Transgenic lines expressing the Hrap gene under the regulation of the constitutive CaMV35S promoter were generated using embryogenic cell suspensions of two banana cultivars: 'Sukali Ndiizi' and 'Mpologoma'. These lines were characterized by molecular analysis, and were challenged with Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum to analyse the efficacy of the Hrap gene against BXW. The majority of transgenic lines (six of eight) expressing Hrap did not show any symptoms of infection after artificial inoculation of potted plants in the screenhouse, whereas control nontransgenic plants showed severe symptoms resulting in complete wilting. This study demonstrates that the constitutive expression of the sweet pepper Hrap gene in banana results in enhanced resistance to BXW. We describe the development of transgenic banana varieties resistant to BXW, which will boost the arsenal available to fight this epidemic disease and save livelihoods in the Great Lakes region of East and Central Africa.
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