Scientists Warn of Possible Banana Extinction

Liz Walters

Coming soon to store shelves near you, well, nobody really knows what grocery stores would do with all the extra space they’d have if there were no more bananas to sell. Experts say the types of bananas found in most stores may be in trouble as they get wiped out from diseases like Panama disease and Tropical Race Four. A special breed found in Madagascar could help scientists figure out how to keep the bananas alive, but only five of these trees are known to exist, The Daily Star reports.

Scientists are trying to quickly develop new banana varieties strong enough to survive widespread diseases currently plaguing the fruit globally.

Because bananas are clones, the disease is able to spread very quickly from one to another, and the bananas are all in close proximity. Bananas with some gene variations would possibly be able to survive and then pass on those genes to future generations, but that’s not the case here when every banana is the same and therefore just as defenseless.

It is currently wreaking havoc with crops in Asia, but that could spread to America and eventually rid the world of its supply.

Richard Allen, senior conservation assessor at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, told the BBC that the type of banana they’re now looking at in Madagascar “doesn’t have Panama disease in it, so perhaps it has genetic traits against the disease.” He added that “we don’t know until we actually do research on the banana itself, but we can’t do the research until it’s saved.”

The Madagascan variety isn’t suitable for eating, but researchers hope to create a new type of banana through cross-breeding, according to The Daily Star.

Logging, fires and farming could threaten those few remaining trees though.

In order to satisfy a market that mostly demands cookie-cutter products with predictable quality control, the Cavendish banana is most often found in American stores. A combination of qualities like decent shelf life, size, taste, etc. make it reliable. Even though other bananas exist, which can be different colors and have very different tastes, it’s easy to see how using the same exact type of banana for most of the country and much else of the world too could become a serious issue if a deadly parasite or pathogen spreads. It could wipe out entire areas where bananas grow.

Monoculturing can make the situation worse. Because most farms want to focus on growing cash crops, they will only grow one type of product instead of creating a polyculture of different types of crops where a mix of plants and other living creatures can come together and thrive. The benefit of the latter is that these little ecosystems can work together and be more resilient. This type of farming system also doesn’t put every egg in one basket, but sometimes the demand requires that a whole space is dedicated solely to producing one fruit, like bananas.

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