Bad news for banana lovers: the tasty fruit is on its way to becoming a thing of the past. A nasty fungus that has been decimating bananas in Asia and Australia has jumped to Jordan and Mozambique. Scientists fear that it is just a matter of time until it finds its way to Latin America, where 80% of bananas are grown. The report, released in Nature Magazine, says that “[e]xpansion of the disease worldwide could be disastrous,” meaning that we may be kissing the bananas we know and love goodbye.
Back in the 1950s, the most popular banana cultivar, called the Gros Michel, was wiped out by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense (Foc). Apparently, this banana was much tastier but when it was wiped out, growers were forced to use the now-standard (and blander) Cavendish variety. Researchers are trying to breed a new resistant Gros Michel to replace the Cavendish if it does get wiped out.
Foc causes a banana to rot and is almost impossible to get rid of once it has crept into the soil. No one is sure how it ended up in Mozambique and Jordan, but it is likely that the fungus will continue to spread. “I’m incredibly concerned,” says Gert Kema, researcher at Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands. “I will not be surprised if it pops up in Latin America in the near future.”
For now, growers are trying to battle the problem using crop rotation and using different banana variants, reinforcing the importance of biodiversity. One scientist is working on bringing back the Gros Michel, but unless a solution is found for the poor Cavendish soon, we may find ourselves reminiscing about the delicious bananas of our youth one day.
images from Scot Nelson