Bananas are near perfect snacks. They're sweet and satisfying, high in potassium and other nutrients, and they come in their own convenient carrying cases. (OK, they may get mushy before you have a chance to eat them—but that's why they're only near perfect.) In recent years, however, scientists have started to raise concerns about the fruit's vulnerability to disease, and a new report from the journal PLOS Pathogens seems to confirm that notion. Bananas as we know them may be on their way to extinction, thanks in part to Panama disease, a fungus that essentially blocks the plant's ability to draw water. Why is a pesky little pathogen cause for such sensational words like extinction? Because it's happened before.
The bananas you eat are a bit different than those your grandparents ate. Until the 1960s, most eating bananas were the Gros Michel variety, a stouter and thicker cousin of the banana you'll see in the produce aisle today. The sudden change in the world's favorite fruit was owed to a previous strain of Panama disease that devastated Gros Michel plantations worldwide. As major banana crops withered, agricultural researchers were able to develop a new, seemingly resistant cultivar: Cavendish. These more slender fruits quickly became the standard replacement for Gros Michels, and have remained so ever since.
- 5 Ways to Upgrade a Banana Split
- 9 Ways to Use Overripe Bananas
- Whiskey sales around the world have been on the uptick and it seems a whiskey shortage is on the way.
One thing that has changed since the switch to Cavendish is the fungus. A new strain of Fusarium fungi called Panama Tropical Race 4 is already affecting Cavendish crops in southeast Asia, Africa and possibly Australia. If the Panama disease epidemic of the last century is any indication, the fungus could very easily hop continents and oceans once again. This may seem like a small problem for your bowl of cereal in the morning, but it's a much bigger deal for parts of the world where bananas constitute a staple food in many diets.