Source: Business Insider
When it comes to the world’s favorite fruit, history is repeating itself, with the most popular banana at serious risk from the Panama disease – a fungicide-resistant pathogen that’s crossed continents and breached quarantine efforts to spread across South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Australia.
According to a new study by researchers in the Netherlands, the across-ocean leap to South America is now inevitable, and that’s a huge problem.
This is where 82 percent of the world’s Cavandish bananas – by far the world’s most popular banana variety – are grown, with Ecuador alone supplying over a third of the billion-dollar global export market.
The threat is Panama disease, the exact same soil-borne fungus that drove the original favorite banana, the Gros Michel, to near-extinction in the 1960s.
Its effects were first discovered way back in 1876, when a wilting disease was reported in Australian banana crops.
By 1890, the same disease appeared in Gros Michel crops in Costa Rica and Panama, and 20 years later, it was finally attributed to the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc).
This fungus is incredibly efficient at infecting banana crops, and when it does, it’s devastating. Transmitted through both soil and water, F. oxysporum can lay dormant in the soil for up to 30 years, and it’s virtually impossible for growers to know their crops have it without rigorous testing (which doesn’t exist). Once it latches onto a suitable host, it finds its way to the root system and travels up to the xylem vessels – a plant’s main water transporters.
From here, the fungus messes with the plant’s vascular system, causing it to wilt rapidly and turn a horrible yellow-brown co lour due to a lack of water. The plant will then die very quickly from dehydration.
Before farmers even knew what hit them, Panama disease had spread through most of the world’s Gros Michel banana crops, wiping them out everywhere but in certain parts of Thailand, where small plantations are keeping the variety alive.
Getty Images/John Moore
“Fortunately, there was a remedy: Cavendish bananas – maintained as interesting specimens in botanical gardens in the United Kingdom and in the United Fruit Company collection in Honduras – were identified as resistant substitutes for Gros Michel,” researchers from Wageningen University and Research Centre report in PLOS Pathogens. “A new clone was ‘born’ that, along with the new tissue culture techniques, helped save and globalise banana production.”