Not wild enough

The banana has only ten years left?

It is weak. Old, run down. Despite its phallic form, a sterile creature that has been sexless for thousands of years, the banana will probably become extinct in ten years, according to the cover story in the current New Scientist

The banana’s worst enemy is its uniformity, its lack of genetic diversity. The banana remains in evolutionary stasis, helpless against pests and fungi such as "Black Sigatoka" (Mycosphaerella fijiensis), which has now spread to almost all growing regions, decimating the crop there by up to 50%. Some fields are sprayed up to 50 times a year with highly concentrated pesticides; it has been found that most field workers become as sterile from this as the (certainly no longer healthy) fruit they plant.

Furthermore, the banana is threatened by the Panama disease (which already killed the ancestor of today’s Cavendish banana, the Gros Michel) now in a new form, with a new name: race 4, warns New Scientist, will attack the banana with tremendous force and brutality. Race 4 has already reached South Africa, Australia and parts of Asia, and the fungus cannot be driven out with chemical maces, because it lurks in the soil and not on the leaves.

Things are not looking good for the yellow crooked fruit, but it seems somewhat exaggerated that it will no longer exist in ten years. The International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain would like to point out that it is urgent to help the banana with genetic engineering. Last year, an international consortium agreed to raise sufficient funds so that the genome of the banana would be researched by 2006 (cf. The Genome of the Banana).

Using the genome of wild banana species from Southeast Asia, the plant’s region of origin, which has been able to develop a variety of defense and resistance mechanisms often completely lacking in cultivated plants, various fungus-resistant varieties will then be bred. The banana genome is estimated at 500-600 million base pairs and therefore requires no less effort than the Human Genome Project.

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