Bananas, considered one of the most popular fruits, are on the verge of extinction for the 2nd time in nearly 50-years thanks to the re-emergence of a deadly fungus known as Panama’s Disease, which wiped out the Gros Michel variety during the mid 1900’s. Gros Michel was the only type of banana eaten in the United States from the late 19th century until after World War II.
According to Dan Koeppel, author of “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World”, Gros Michels were “ more creamy, and tastier than the Cavendish type found in supermarkets today”. However, they were unable to resist the invasive and (incurable) fungus which traveled up the plants’ roots and infested entire plantations until they were wiped from the face of the earth. Unfortunately, a more virulent strain has Panama disease is said to be wreaking havoc on its successor fruit
Panama Disease is transmitted through soil and water can remain dormant in soil for about 30 years, or until it is stimulated to germinate by a susceptible host. It usually enters through the root and travels into the xylem vessels. As the fungus disrupts the plant’s vascular system, the leaves turn yellow and begin to wilt. After the fungus finishes its cycle, the plant eventually dies from dehydration.
According to a study, co-authored by Gert Kema, a banana expert at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, published November 19 in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the newer strain of the disease, known as Tropical Race 4, has been working its way across the globe during the past 2-years, despite efforts to contain it by quarantining plantations It can now be found in the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and even Pakistan and Africa. Ironically, however, it has yet to show up in Latin America, although scientists believe it is coming. In the meantime, they are trying to modify the banana plant to make it resist Panama disease and many other serious banana afflictions ranging from fungal, bacterial, and viral infections to burrowing worms and beetles. This includes searching for new wild bananas in remote jungles: and trying to develop hybrid fruit that will prove resistance to diseases.
It should be noted that the primary reason that Panama Disease is so threatening to the entire world crop is that, although there are actually dozens of different varieties of bananas, they are generally cultivated in close proximity to one another, and have, literally made commercially produced bananas into effective clones of each other,” Kema stated in a news release. “When you get rid of variety entirely, you risk exposing a crop to something it can neither cope with nor evolve to defend itself against”.
While this has made it easier for companies such as Chiquita and Dole to mass produce them cheaply and control consistency, it has made them more vulnerable.