Written by: Angela Qian
Humans are completely bananas for bananas. What’s not to like about the curvy fruit? Bananas are cheap, nutritious, make a great snack, and pair well with most breakfast foods. They can be put into smoothies, stacked on top of pancakes, or even dipped in peanut butter! Personally, I enjoy bananas on their own as a light snack between meals. Sadly, despite how much humanity may like the fruit, bananas are facing a serious pandemic that may spell disaster for all banana lovers.
Humans have played a very large role in breeding the modern bananas that are currently sold on store shelves. In fact, the bananas that we eat are all clones of each other! Edible bananas are parthenocarpic, meaning that they are produced without fertilization, and are seedless. There are many other fruits that are also considered parthenocarpic, including oranges, cucumbers, grapes, and persimmons. Well, if there are plenty more parthenocarpic fruits, then what is the problem with bananas? While seedless fruits may be more appealing to the consumer, these fruits lack genetic diversity. After all, if each banana is simply a clone of the other, they should have practically the same genome. Of course, this wouldn’t be a huge problem all on its own, but combined with a dangerous disease, it can become a catastrophe.
Panama disease, also known as banana wilt, has been ravaging banana plants ever since the 19th century. The disease is caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum, and likely originated in Asia. It’s very difficult to control and has decimated plantations of Gros Michel bananas in the past. Now, a new strain of the Panama disease known as TR 4 is threatening the modern Cavendish banana. The fungal disease enters the plant from damaged roots and infects the plant’s rootstock and leaf bases. After a few years, the entire banana plant wilts and dies. The fungus, on the other hand, stays in the soil, making future planting very troublesome. The best solution scientists currently have requires the breeding of disease-resistant banana trees; however, banana trees are sterile, which makes the process even more difficult.
Given the sheer popularity of bananas, it is imperative that we find an effective treatment for the Panama disease soon. Not only do people depend on bananas for their diet, but many countries also depend on the fruit for their economies. Here’s to hoping that our favourite yellow fruit braves its own pandemic.