Theoretical and Applied Genetics

, Volume 129, Issue 3, pp 547–561 | Cite as

The triploid East African Highland Banana (EAHB) genepool is genetically uniform arising from a single ancestral clone that underwent population expansion by vegetative propagation

  • Mercy Kitavi
  • Tim Downing
  • Jim Lorenzen
  • Deborah Karamura
  • Margaret Onyango
  • Moses Nyine
  • Morag Ferguson
  • Charles SpillaneEmail author
Original Article


Key message

All East African Highland Banana varieties are genetically uniform having arisen from a single clone introduced to Africa.


East African Highland bananas (EAHBs) are a subgroup of triploid (AAA genome) bananas of importance to food security in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Little is known about their genetic variation, population structure and evolutionary history. Ninety phenotypically diverse EAHB cultivars were genotyped at 100 SSR microsatellite markers to investigate population genetic diversity, the correlation of genetic variability with morphological classes, and evolutionary origins since introduction to Africa. Population-level statistics were compared to those for plantain (AAB) and dessert (AAA) cultivars representing other M. acuminata subgroups. EAHBs displayed minimal genetic variation and are largely genetically uniform, irrespective of whether they were derived from the distinct Ugandan or Kenyan germplasm collections. No association was observed between EAHB genetic diversity and currently employed morphological taxonomic systems for EAHB germplasm. Population size dynamics indicated that triploid EAHBs arose as a single hybridization event, which generated a genetic bottleneck during foundation of the EAHB genepool. As EAHB triploids are sterile, subsequent asexual vegetative propagation of EAHBs allowed a recent rapid expansion in population size. This provided a basis for emergence of genetically near-isogenic somatic mutants selected across farmers and environments in East Africa over the past 2000 years since EAHBs were first introduced to the African continent.


Germplasm Collection Polymorphic Information Content Principal Coordinate Analysis Great Lake Region Bayesian Skyline Plot 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was conducted at Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa (BecA)-ILRI and in the Genetics and Biotechnology Lab at the Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC), School of Natural Sciences, National University of Ireland Galway. We thank Dr Kassa Semagn for his invaluable help in data analysis. This research was supported by funding from Irish Aid and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 113 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 99 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (PDF 121 kb)
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Supplementary material 5 (PDF 161 kb)
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Supplementary material 6 (PDF 124 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Genetics and Biotechnology Lab, Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC), School of Natural Sciences, C306 Aras de BrunNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland
  2. 2.International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA)Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa (BecA-ILRI)NairobiKenya
  3. 3.School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied MathematicsNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland
  4. 4.Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationSeattleUSA
  5. 5.Bioversity InternationalKampalaUganda
  6. 6.Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), KARI, Kisii CentreKisiiKenya

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