Tuesday 27 September 2022

“Panama Disease” Threatens Bananas With Extinction

Deadly tropical disease sweeps across crops worldwide.

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27 September 2022 - At The Banks - BCCR

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Bananas are facing potential extinction, researchers have cautioned, as a deadly tropical disease sweeps across crops worldwide.

Known as Panama disease, or Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, the fungal infection has already spread throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and Central America.

Should the infection reach South America, researchers warn the Cavendish banana – the species most commonly sold and consumed worldwide – could face extinction.

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Chemical treatment has proved ineffective at halting the spread of the disease, with experts only able to stop the fungus by quarantining vast swathes of farmland.

Cavendish bananas are genetically identical to one another, which allows Panama disease to rapidly decimate entire harvest yields.

Salvation for banana crops could come in the form of a rare Madagascan tree, which grows an unpalatable, wild species of banana that is immune to Panama disease.

Plant biologists are rushing to create a hybrid of the two species of banana in the hope of creating a infection-resistant strain.

Quarantine has showed some effectiveness as a way of limiting the spread of the fungus, but it is not a perfect method.

Whilst a portion of land may be sacrificed to protect an even larger area becoming riddled with the destructive fungus, spores remain dormant in the soil for decades, ready to flare up when the right conditions arise later on.

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There are only five of the more hardy Madagascan banana trees in existence.

Richard Allen, senior conservation assessor at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew says that the rare disease-resistant species found in Madagascar (Ensete perrieri) has certain traits which make it more durable than the Cavendish banana.

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