Transgenic expression of Arabidopsis ELONGATION FACTOR-TU RECEPTOR (AtEFR) gene in banana enhances resistance against Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum

Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) caused by Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum (Xcm) is a severe bacterial disease affecting banana production in East and Central Africa, where banana is cultivated as a staple crop. Classical breeding of banana is challenging because the crop is clonally propagated and has limited genetic diversity. Thus, genetic engineering serves as a viable alternative for banana improvement. Studies have shown that transfer of the elongation factor Tu receptor gene (AtEFR) from Arabidopsis thaliana to other plant species can enhance resistance against bacterial diseases. However, AtEFR activity in banana and its efficacy against Xcm has not been demonstrated. In this study, transgenic events of banana (Musa acuminata) cultivar dwarf Cavendish expressing the AtEFR gene were generated and evaluated for resistance against Xcm under greenhouse conditions. The transgenic banana events were responsive to the EF-Tu-derived elf18 peptide and exhibited enhanced resistance to BXW disease compared to non-transgenic control plants. This study suggests that the functionality of AtEFR is retained in banana with the potential of enhancing resistance to BXW under field conditions.