Don’t go bananas! Scientists are trying to save bananas from extinction
(WGNO) – The banana is the world’s most popular fruit crop and it faces extinction because the bright yellow Cavendish banana we we see in supermarkets and salad bowls has become intensely vulnerable to disease outbreaks.
According to CNN, the Cavendish banana has become a monoculture of genetically identical plants, thus increasing its vulnerability to disease. Scientists are now getting involved and are trying to prevent a Cavendish crash.
Cavendish bananas account for 47 percent of the bananas grown worldwide and 99 percent of all bananas sold commercially for export to developed countries.
Fungal diseases severely devastated the banana industry at least once in history and the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc) is known to infect banana plant root and vascular systems thus inhibiting the plant from transporting water and nutrients, eventually causing the plant to wilt and die. Fusarium wilt spreads easily in soil, water and infects planting material. The fungus can live in the soil for several decades and fungicides have proven ineffective so far. Thankfully, Cavendish bananas are resistant to this particular fungal strain that compeltely wiped out another species of banana in the past.
Cavedish fruit is susceptible however, to a disease called Black Sigatoka, which farmers have under control, but the recently emerged strain of Fusarium oxysporum, or Tropical Race 4 (TR4,) is causing problems in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. If TR4 makes its way to Latin America and the Caribbean, the banana industry could be in trouble.
To reduce the vulnerability for diseases, we need more genetic diversity in our cultivated bananas. Availability of the latest tools and detailed genome sequences, coupled with long-term visionary research in genetics can help us keep abreast of the potentially hazardous Cavendish crash.