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Bananas are Going Extinct -- Can We Still Save Them?

Nov 07, 2016 04:30 AM EST
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Bananas fill a shelf in Whole Food Market's new flagship store on June 6, 2007 in London. The US firm of natural and organic food outlets have opened their flagship store to Londoners today in Kensington.
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One of the world's most favorite fruits is on the verge of extinction. The Cavendish banana is now under attack by a fungus known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) which has given rise to the Fusarium Wilt also known as the Panama disease.

READ: Panama Disease' Throws Banana Industry into Global Crisis notes that the Panama disease epidemic has not happened since 1960s when at least $2.3 billion worth of bananas were wiped out.

According to a report by FAO, the fungus has been taking over banana plantations in Southeast Asia and just recently, has reached countries outside such as Africa and Australia. Fusarium wilt has been the most difficult banana disease to control because its soil-borne nature, and the fungus can survive in the soil for decades.

"This is an insidious disease in that it can move ... by soil-contaminated machinery, tools - that kind of thing," Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida who discovered Tropical Race 4, told Quartz.

The death of the Cavendish varieties is seen as an economic threat because these kinds of bananas dominate local consumption and global trade. Thus, their downfall would put a big dent on the economy.

What made Cavendish bananas vulnerable to the disease? Cavendish bananas are genetically uniform monoculture. Having homogeneous genetics make them more susceptible to diseases.

"Being genetically identical means if a pest comes in, such as a fungus, and it infects one plant it means it's definitely going to spread to all the other plants," Beth Dokolasa of Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers told Denver Local News.

Meanwhile, Christian Science Monitor said that researchers are now developing a technique to counter the extinction such as breeding new types of bananas resistant to disease.

The scientists are exploring other breeds of bananas that may not have the desirable characteristics but may have resistance genes that could be used in engineering and breeding programs. Unless the program will be deemed successful, we remain at risk of history repeating itself.

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