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Our Favorite Bananas Can Go Extinct in 10 Years! Know Why

Shipra Singh
Shipra Singh
Banana cultivation
Banana cultivation

Love bananas? Well, eat them as much as you can in this decade. Scientists around the world are already worrying that this much-loved fruit may become extinct in 10 years from now.

After us humans, now bananas are facing a pandemic! Just like our medical scientists had to race against time to create Covid-19 vaccine, agricultural scientists are doing the same to save this fruit from extinction by trying to create resistant hybrid varieties.

Why is the banana pandemic serious?

Around 120 countries involve in banana cultivation with 100 million tonnes produced annually. The global banana industry is in deep trouble due to the alarmingly growing fungal diseases in this crop. It threatens to destroy the entire industry and leave millions of farmers, mostly small-scale ones, with no livelihood, as they depend on this fruit for income.

As per scientists, the rapidly spreading fungal diseases has almost led to the collapse of the genetic base of banana.

Do you know all “dessert” varieties of bananas grown commercially come from the Cavendish variety?

According to scientists at The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, all Cavendish varieties came from a single plant. So, all other bananas are clones. This means they possess same genotype. This quality has now turned into a disastrous thing due to the banana pandemic.

Due to the same genotype, a disease that can kill one plant can kill all banana plants in the world.

Banana fruits on the plant

The genetic root of banana is in India

All bananas in the world have come from a single variety – the Cavendish. This has its genetic roots in India. A few years ago, the journal called New Scientist disclosed the shocking fact that the Cavendish banana crop of the world was threatened by a series of diseases caused basically by the fungus, Black Sigatoka.

The disease is now a pandemic – it has spread in bananas all over the world.

The big problem

FAO informs about the rapidly vanishing species of wild banana. This is because of rapid deforestation of Indian forests. It is also making numerous traditional banana varieties extinct.

A plant scientist at the headquarters of FAO in Rome, Italy warns that numerous genes that may have saved the Cavendish variety are already extinct!

The only hope

A ray of hope to save the Cavendish banana lies in producing new hybrid varieties that show resistance to the fungus.

But it’s easier said than done.

Developing a new variety is a herculean task that requires time and deep research and trials. In case of banana, it becomes more difficult, as the seedless modern banana is cultivated through cuttings and not through sexual reproduction.

A single variety that possesses genes resistant to Black Sigatoka fungus is present in just one plant, which is in the Botanical Gardens of Kolkata, India.

How is the disease killing banana plants?

Sigatoka is not a simple single disease. It is a 3-fungi group producing a complex of diseases. It easily reduces yield of banana crop by a staggering 40%.

The 3 fungal diseases of Sigatoka complex are:

  • Eumusae Leaf Spot caused by Pseudocercosporaeumusae

  • Yellow Sigatoka caused by Pseudocercosporamusae

  • Black Sigatoka caused by Pseudocercosporafigiensis

The first and the last one have proved to be the most destructive diseases. Black Sigatoka is posing as the biggest threat to bananas all over the world right now.

Scientists have sequenced genes of both the above-mentioned destructive diseases. This is what they found:

  • The disease shuts down banana’s immune system.

  • The disease complex makes the fungi match the metabolism of the plant.

  • This way, the fungi can create enzymes that attack cell walls of the host plant, breaking it down completely.

  • Once this happens, the fungi feed on carbs and sugar of the plant.

  • The plant cannot survive such a merciless attack. It dies.

(This research was first released in journal PLOS Genetics.)

banana in the making
Banana in the making

GM Banana is in the Pipeline: Will You Eat It?

At present, scientists are burning the midnight oil to create GM banana. It will be in the market soon. However, the big question is: will people eat it?

Looking at the apprehensions of people with regard to genetically modified foods, the successful marketing and selling of this fruit seems bleak right now.

 

And what about the Indian “pujas” that are regarded incomplete without banana as the main “prasad”? South Indians relish their food served on banana leaves. We will have to find alternatives. Truly, if this humble and ‘holy’ yellow fruit goes extinct, we are going to miss it like anything!

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