We don’t mean to worry you on this lovely Friday afternoon, but Bananas are at risk of facing potential extinction. This is because a deadly tropical disease is sweeping across crops worldwide.
It is known as the Panama disease, or Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, and is a fungal infection. It has already spread throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and Central America.
If the infection reaches South America, then researchers warn that the Cavendish banana, which is the species most commonly sold and eaten worldwide, could face extinction.
Worryingly, chemical treatment has failed to halt the spread of the disease, with experts only able to stop the fungus by quarantining large areas of farmland.
The Cavendish bananas are genetically identical to one another. This allows the Panama disease to rapidly destroy large swathes of crop.
An estimated five billion types of these bananas are eaten each year in the U.K alone.
The salvation for bananas could come from a rare Madagascan tree. It grows an unpalatable, wild species of banana that is immune to the Panama disease.
Biologists are hurrying to create a hybrid of these two species of banana in the hope of creating an infection-resistant variety.
Quarantining land has been the most effective way of limiting the fungus’s spread. It is not a perfect solution.
And when we said these Madagascan trees are rare, there are only five of them in existence. Five. Let that sink in.
Richard Allen, who is the senior conservation assessor at Kew Gardens, said that the rare disease-resistant species found in Madagascar (Ensete perrieri) has certain traits which make it more durable than the Cavendish banana.
‘It doesn’t have Panama disease in it, so perhaps it has genetic traits against the disease,’ Mr Allen said.
‘We don’t know until we actually do research on the banana itself, but we can’t do the research until it’s saved.’
Panama disease is resilient to fungicidal treatment. Entire fields are ruined when one single plant becomes infected.
Lets hope these scientists manage to create a fungus-resistant strand soon enough, because we don’t know what we’d do without our bananas!