Here's why scientists think bananas may be in danger of extinction

Image: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

It’s a super-food, high in potassium, a favoured source of energy for active types and a staple for hundreds of millions of people but there’s a debate raging in scientific circles as to whether the current strand of the humble banana is in danger of extinction. “Bananageddon,” as some oh-so-funny scientists are calling it, is the result of the threat posed by Panama disease or fusarium wilt, a previous version of which decimated banana plantations in Australia, Costa Rica and Panama in the late 19th century. That outbreak destroyed production of the Gros Michel banana, causing massive unemployment and an estimated loss of more than $2.3 billion.

The Gros Michel was replaced by the Cavendish banana, which is resistant to the fungus, which caused the 19th century blight and now accounts for 99% of the world’s banana exports. However, Panama disease has evolved and new strains have begun to infect Cavendish bananas since being identified in Taiwan in 1990. According to a report in The Observer, “there is no chemical fix,” for this new strain, which scientists believe can lie dormant in soil for more than 40 years. Movement of technical staff across continents also worries scientists as this helps to transport the strain across banana plantations and will soon see the migration of the disease to Latin and South America. 400 million people in Latin and South America and Asia rely on bananas as staple foods and their production employs hundreds of thousands of people.

While there are several methods available to banana farmers to slow the spread of the disease, once the strain takes hold it cannot be eradicated. Scientists are working on developing a genetically modified, Panama disease resistant strain of Cavendish bananas by 2023 but there are those who believe that this will take longer than that to achieve.

For now the best thing to do might be to wean yourself off bananas as the current lethal strain of Panama disease has already spread across China, south-east Asia, Australia, Jordan, Israel, Mozambique and India. At this rate you have to feel that it may soon be time to change the words of the popular ditty to “no we have no bananas today,” or any day for that matter.

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