Science and Health

This Fungus Is Bad News For The World's Bananas

The type of bananas we know and love might die off. A disease has already hit about half the world's supply, and it's spreading.

This Fungus Is Bad News For The World's Bananas
Ian Ransley / CC by 2.0

The world's most popular fruit is in danger. A disease that targets bananas is making its way around the world.

The fungus known as Panama disease has been devastating banana production in many Asian countries like Taiwan, which now exports only 2 percent of the amount of bananas it did in the 1960s.

Publishing their findings in PLOS Pathogens, researchers confirmed the biggest threat is a single clone of Panama disease named Tropical Race 4.

What's disappointing is history seems to be repeating itself.

Central America was devastated in the 1950s when pretty much the only commercial specimen of the fruit was hit by Panama Disease's race 1 strain.

Fortunately, the world discovered Cavendish bananas, a different specimen immune to the race 1 strain. Unfortunately, not so for Tropical Race 4.

Another problem is bananas are asexual, meaning a banana is exactly the same genetically as its parent. They don't experience beneficial mutations like other plant species.

So far, Panama disease's Tropical Race 4 strain has already hit significant parts of Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australia. And preventing the spread looks incredibly difficult.

A horticulture expert told Conservation magazine: "A dirty boot with a few grams of soil from an infested site in Asia planted inadvertently in a Latin American plantation is all it would take. It's just a matter of time."

Scientists are using cross-breeding tactics to create a banana that's disease-resistant. But that process is expensive and time-consuming.

This video includes images from _e.t. / CC BY SA 2.0 and Scot Nelson / CC BY SA 2.0.