Disease Threatens Bananas: Will The New Panama Disease Lead To Extinction?

A disease now threatens bananas for the second time in the last 50 years. This means that people who love bananas might find less on store shelves as the disease spreads from Asia to other locations around the world. Tech Times reported that scientists are now warning growers about the possible extinction of the banana.

The fruit has faced this threat before. Fifty years ago, the Panama disease, also known as Fusarium fungus, threatened bananas. After it spread through Central America, growers were forced to burn their banana crops. At that time, growers had to find a new type of banana to grow around the world. In 1965, it was the Gros Michel banana variety that lined store shelves. Today, it is the inferior Cavendish cultivar that growers have cultivated and grown since the Gros Michel banana went “extinct.”

What is the Panama disease? It is a fungus that infects the soil. Once it infects the soil, it infects the root system of the banana plant, and it takes control of the banana through its vascular system.

Now, a new strain of the Panama disease is infecting Cavendish bananas worldwide. The new strain is called Tropical Race 4, and it has spread through Asia over the last 50 years. According to the Brisbane Times, scientists are concerned about Tropical Race 4 because of the way it attacks bananas in tropical locations. Gert Kema, a banana expert, explained more about the disease in a recent press released published by Wageningen UR.

“The Cavendish banana is very susceptible to TR4. Therefore, the fungus can spread easily due to the worldwide monoculture of Cavendish bananas. That’s why we have to intensify awareness campaigns to reach small and large-scale growers in order to help them with developing and implementing quarantine measures preventing the fungus from continued spreading.”

Kema and his fellow scientists are working hard to stop the spread of the Panama disease in bananas to prevent the extinction of the Cavendish banana. He revealed some of the steps the scientists are taking in their press release.

“We are gaining more and more insight into the scope of the issue. The ability to quickly identify infected banana plants and infested soils is extremely important in this respect. However, eventually we have to come up with long-term solutions, particularly host resistance, which can only be developed in strong multidisciplinary alliances with various partners and industry.”

Will Tropical Race 4 and Panama disease truly force the extinction of bananas? One banana expert in Florida says the extinction threat is “overblown.” According to Grist.org, Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida, spoke about the latest trouble facing the banana. He said that the Cavendish banana may become harder to produce, but the banana will not go extinct. He backed up his words by saying that the Gros Michel banana variety did not go extinct in 1965. Bananas were burned worldwide, but the Gros Michel banana still exists. It is just very rare now.

Since 1965, the Cavendish banana has become popular, and it has been easy to produce, but it is not the only banana in the world. There are many different types of bananas. They are just not the yellow type banana consumers are used to seeing on store shelves. People are used to the yellow bananas, but they come in many different sizes, shapes, and even colors.

Peter Fairhurst, a plantain exporter in Guatemala, spoke about the impact of Tropical Race 4 on bananas and what it might likely do to the banana market.

“Ultimately, the spread of TR4 will introduce different varietals to the American public, which will come down to a difficult marketing challenge in convincing Americans that a brown-spotted banana is a good banana.”

This battle with the banana has happened to other fruits in the past. The apple has faced its own challenges.

Are you a fan of the banana? Would you be willing to try a banana that looked different than the bananas seen at your local grocery store right now?

[Photo by Shutterstock]