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How to Save Bananas from Extinction

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Most people will agree that bananas are some of the cheapest fruits around and that they can be found in stores all over the world.

However, we would be wrong to assume that they will be around forever. Banana plants face an extremely serious fungal disease called Panama Disease Tropical Race 4(TR4). A large number of plantations have already been destroyed by this fungus, and soon, we may see bananas disappear forever.

The disease originated in South Asia and Australia and has spread to Africa and the Middle East. It would be safe to assume that it is only a matter of time until it reaches Latin America, as well.

Generally, once TR4 contaminates a plantation, farmers are helpless. Their only option is to destroy the crops and start over. Even doing so can be difficult, as the disease is extremely contagious and difficult to kill, and if it survives, it will infect the new plans as well.

Luckily, scientists have discovered a species of banana called Musa Acuminata that is essentially immune to TR4. A long project was undertaken in order to locate the genes that help this species resist the disease, and to insert them into the Cavendish species of banana.

The trials have shown promising results, and the procedure may soon be used in order to grow bananas that are immune to TR4, all over the world, eradicating the disease.

We have moved to eating Cavendish bananas after the previous favorite, Gros Michel, almost went extinct in the 1950s due to another strain of the disease.

While we have apparently solved the problem, the scientists still need to find a reliable way to implement the technology on a global scale, and also to make it cheap enough so that farmers can afford it.

Some may argue that this is a sign of a larger, more serious problem. We have come to focus on the cultivation of one plant species at a time, and this could cause more problems than benefits on a financial level.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Frank, you are lucky to live in a place where the blight is not yet prevalent. It is a real threat in other places, that’s how the Gros Michel variety disappeared from commercial plantations, even if you can find it in a few locations all over the world, like in Africa.
    In infected locales, new banana plants are grown in test tubes from a virus-free embryo and replicated into hundreds of thousands of clones. This in turn encourages the virus, which is fighting just one plant, or rather its identical clones, with no natural variability that could put up a defense against the Panama disease.

    And I categorically deny it: I am NOT gros!

  2. Banana blights (diseases) come and go.
    Please stop the corporate and/or governmental propaganda. I live in Thailand. There are probably 30 billion bananas here. I live in Chiang Mai, a city of 750,000 people. I can do a 1/4 mile circular walk from my house and see 25,000 bananas. This story is a scare tactic to raise prices. Bananas trees won’t grow bananas all of the time, and sometimes won’t grow bananas for 2 years after giving a successfully large crop. Some banana trees will give a continuous crop.

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