Fungus Threatens To Make The Bananas You Eat Extinct

Do you like to eat bananas? Better get your fill in. A horrible fungus called “Tropical Race Four” is threatening to kill off the one variety that everyone eats, the Cavendish.

The wilt, which has already decimated Cavendishes across Asia, destroyed 70% of the crop in Taiwan, and devastated Australia, makes the bananas smell like rotting trash and shrinks their roots so that they can’t even stand up.

Scientists think that it’s only a matter of time before it reaches Central America, which would mean no more bananas for Billy. They’re racing to genetically engineer two new kinds of bananas. One would be a Cavendish that’s resistant to the fungus, while the other aims to be a new, superior variety that the fungus can’t target.

If they’re not successful, I fear that in the not too distant future my Cheerios will be some lonely grain circles floating in a puddle of milk.

WE HAVE NO BANANAS [The New Yorker]

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  1. levelone says:

    This situation isn’t new. I remember reading an article about it around 6 years years ago in Popular Science. There are other varieties of bananas that people can eat, this is just an excuse to push genetically modified food. 50 years ago, the Gros Michel banana used to be the one people ate until it was replaced by the Cavendish.

    • thompson says:

      Yes uhh, because the Gros Michel was devastated by Panama Disease just like the Cavendish will from Race Four.

      But go ahead and think this is some global conspiracy to implant GPS sensors into your DNA through genetically modified bananas.

      • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

        No one said anything about sensors, but Google Monsanto and/or watch Food Inc. and you won’t be making fun of the conspiracy part so much…

        • thompson says:

          Oh trust me, I’m fully aware of the evil that is Monsanto. But to somehow claim that the scientific fact that the Cavendish is being ravaged by a fungus is at all caused by/related to Monstanto’s desire to be the evil corporate overlord of all things grown in the earth is facetious. And undermines the legitimate criticism that can be leveled at those Soy Bean hogging-types at Monsanto.

        • danic512 says:

          Just because Monsanto is evil doesn’t mean that the tools they use are evil as well. A knife in the hand of a thief is used quite differently than in the hands of a surgeon.

      • Zowzers says:

        I thought they only wanted to plant GPS receivers on Griffon Vultures… ya know, for spying and stuff.

      • human_shield says:

        I think he means they are using this as an excuse to push genetically modified foods, when in fact there are other natural varieties of bananas we can all eat instead – and switching species has always happened in the past without gen mods.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      I think you’re bananas.

      /rimshot

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      You do realize that despite your belief that God created the ba-nay-nay we eat today, and thus why it’s the Atheists Nightmare, the Cavendish, and most fruit/vegetables, are the result of use messing around with them genetically? Look up Mendall: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregor_Mendel#Experiments_on_plant_hybridization

      • Saltpork says:

        +1
        Humans have been modifying food crops for as long as we’ve known that we can.

        Carrots were originally not orange(thank the Dutch for the orange carrots) and broccoli is one of the newest veggies around(less than 1000 years old).

    • chiieddy says:

      This.

      I remember reading about this quite some time ago.

      • FuzzyWillow says:

        Yeah!

        And whatever happened to those “Killer Bees” that were coming from south america!!1!1!

        Oh Noes!

        • jogales says:

          They’ve showed up in my neighbor’s yard in central Florida…

          • ninabi says:

            We have them- lots and lots of them- in southern Arizona. Drove into a swarm once (windows down, yikes!) and this summer a particularly cranky hive was removed from, of all places, my backyard. In a water meter box. Right beside a walking path frequented by frail elderly and young moms pushing strollers. It could have been a tragedy if left for another three weeks.

        • sykl0ps says:

          What I learned while working for the Florida Department of Agriculture is that the “killer” bees are still around. The Fl Dept of Ag is working with dock workers to educate on how to identify these bees entering the country. Inspections and bait traps attempt to detect areas with killer bee hives so they can be found and destroyed. Same education and support for bee hive keepers.

          So yes, if nothing was done about it we’d be “oh noes!”.

          I guess since it was stopped before it was a problem it must of been a hoax. ;)

        • mandy_Reeves says:

          That’s what killed doze black birds down in Arkansas don’tcha know!!?!

    • Jessie Ventura says:

      I agree…creating a genetically modified nanner doesn’t really seem like “the” answer to me.

      • sqlrob says:

        Have you ever seen a wild banana? You wouldn’t recognize it.

        • Mom says:

          Only because we haven’t been exposed to wild bananas within the lifetimes of most people reading this blog. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, or that there would be anything wrong with growing or eating a different variety of banana. Or even better, several varieties.

          • Jaynor says:

            All really edible varieties of bananas are clones. Basically you make an edible banana, plantain, little red thing in the produce aisle, etc by taking two wild banana-like species… one of which which is palatable but so filled with seeds as to be nearly useless and another that tastes bitter and terrible but is less seedy and you crossbreed them repeatedly until you find a hybrid that works. You then make cuttings of this hybrid and plant them around the world (which is how the Cavendish comes into being). These hybrids produce nearly no viable seeds (like the Cavendish makes something like 1 seed to the metric ton of bananaflesh or something ridiculous like that).

            For those of you who want to track down the details the two plants you crossbreed to invent the next plantain are Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.

            Bottom line – there is nothing natural about this plant. The idea of an “organic” banana is laughable.

            For other fun with sterile plant variants see the “Navel Orange”.

        • dangermike says:

          How did you know my college nickname?

    • shepd says:

      Due to the way bananas propagate (or at least the ones that people popularly eat) genetic modification is the way you have to deal with them. Of course, to bigots of GM food, the McIntosh apple is a GM monster.

    • spazztastic says:

      You realize that foods have been genetically modified for centuries, right?

    • Rayonic says:

      Boy, lots of luddites in this thread. “Natural” is not a synonym for “Good”. Splicing in a gene from a bacteria will not turn the banana into a bacteria. Nor would the resultant banana pass on its genes to you when you eat it.

      If we can make a better banana through artificial means, then screw nature.

      (Note: Nature will not “screw” me back out of spite. It is not a sentient being.)

  2. David in Brasil says:

    There are LOTS of different kinds of bananas. In the supermarket that I frequent, there are at least 4 or 5 types sold. I agree with levelone; this is just an excuse for Monsanto to come to the rescue.

    • Bunnies Attack! says:

      Except some don’t travel well, some have seeds, some have a poor taste or poor texture. The cavendish was popular because it was the perfect balance of factors that people liked. Its like asking people to replace their delicious delicious Fuji apples with crabapples.

      • Zen says:

        I don’t think that’s anything like a fair comparison given the alternatives. There are more than a thousand varieties of bananas, many of which are considered of exceptional food quality, travel well, etc. not the least of which are the Cavendish and the common red. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/481921

        People have many natural options with which to replace the Cavendish. I think a better analogy would be, “It’s like asking people to replace their delicious delicious Fuji apples with another of the many delicious, commercially-produced, reasonably-priced, apples available”

      • Arcaeris says:

        Bullshit. The Cavendish banana on store shelves is only there because years ago just about every other banana variety was decimated by disease and the Cavendish was the only one they could reliably get. It’s not because people liked it so much or anything, but it is fairly durable.

        • Red Cat Linux says:

          Almost, but not quite. The last ‘perfect banana’ was the Big Mike, and when the Panama fungus destroyed that variety, the Cavendish was the most similar one that was resistant to the fungus and took it’s place.

          But it was banana-geddon then too. Growers who were fully invested in the needs of the Big Mike variety had to re-vamp to deal with the new variety, or get wiped out.

          Now the Panama Fungus upgraded and can wipe out the Cavendish the way it took out Big Mike. So, they either need to breed (do they have enough time?), substitute, or gene-hack a new nanner.

    • ubermex says:

      The cavendish feeds an absurd portion of the world’s population. When bananas are spread into hungry areas, it is the cavendish.

  3. savvy9999 says:

    monoculture agriculture is great!

    until it isn’t.

    • dickgrogan says:

      ctrl+f monoculture

      Yep. My thoughts exactly.

    • ARP says:

      Add to that the GMO movement and our food supply isn’t very fault tolerant.

      BTW- The Future of Food is an interesting documentary that partially covers this issue with corn as an example. It’s focus is GMO, but the underlying theme is that rather than do GMO on a single species, have a variety of species and there’s built in resistance.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Did you know all Haas avocados come from a tree that recently died in a mailmans yard in CA?

  4. arachne says:

    I was going to chime in about the various varieties of bananas that are not available in my grocery stores because people apparently only buy the Cavendishes. I would welcome some change there. However it is also a warning against allowing one species to dominate so widely that a disease that attacks it specifically is devastating to a large part of the industry/globe. Irish potato famine anyone?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The potato famine was disasterous because that group of people were too poor to be able to afford a healthy variety of food. Not because they just really loved potatoes all the time. A host of socio-economic conditions worsened the effects ten-fold.

  5. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    Cheerios without banana would just be “Oooooooooo” ghostly scary.

  6. catskyfire says:

    As someone who hates bananas, my reaction is a hearty ‘meh’.

    • nbs2 says:

      I applaud your stance. I am curious to know how they can tell the scent of the affected bananas from the non-affected, which already smell like rotting trash.

      Death to the banana.

    • Tallanvor says:

      I couldn’t agree more. For some reason the smell of bananas is nauseating to me. I’ve had to leave rooms when people are eating to keep from being sick. I’m not sure what it is about them – when I was a kid I could eat them, but sometime between elementary school and college they went from appetizing to disgusting.

    • audiochick says:

      Indeed. Bananas are revolting. Apparently this banana virus is in response to all of my stored-up good karma. :)

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      That’s too bad. I heard they like you. Like like you, even.

  7. sirwired says:

    There are a few things missing from the summary:

    1) The fungus isn’t new
    2) There are lots of banana varieties out there; the Cavendish is merely the most popular variety sold in grocery stores.
    3) This isn’t the first time this has happened; since all Cavendish trees are clones of each other, this was inevitable, and it happened to the Jos Michel (sp?), the previous grocery store banana.

  8. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Little known fact: the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” banana is a Cavendish. If you love the PBJT banana, do not support the extinction of Cavendishes! :)

    I hope this doesn’t affect plantains. I love making fried plantains.

  9. Rachacha says:

    The disease “Tropical Race Four” sounds like a new reality TV Game show spin-off of the Amazing Race.

    Tropical Race 4 where we stick 16 contestants in the middle of a tropical jungle with nothing but 16oz of water and a small utility knife. Contestants must race to the coast stopping at chckpoints along the way. The last person to arrive is ELIMINATED!

  10. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    o/ Yes, we have no bananas o/

  11. mikeyz says:

    Oh, well. We had a good run.

  12. shamowfski says:

    “makes the bananas smell like rotting trash”

    Try to take a whiff of a pile of garbage without smelling bananas. I always can. It’s not the flavor, it’s the texture. I can eat banana runts, but don’t like bananas.

    • HungryGal says:

      I don’t understand why banana runts are so tooth-breakingly hard compared to the other flavors of runts which are pleasantly crumbly.

  13. dwtomek says:

    At first I was delighted that the rest of the world would finally get to join me in my miserable banana free existence. Unfortunately my joy was cut short by the truthiness in the comments. At least I’ll always have my synthetic banana flavor.

  14. dadelus says:
  15. ycnhgm says:

    http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/bananas.asp. This is a very old story and the Cavendish will not become extinct any time soon.

    • dadelus says:

      Wow!!! What timing!

    • ARP says:

      If you look at snopes, its saying that Bananas as a genus (family?) won’t go away, but that it could impact the Cavendish type of banana. Since Cavendish is a huge percentage of our banana consumption, it would have a heavy nutritional and economic impact if they went away and had to be replaced. That’s the problem with monoagriculture.

      • wastedlife says:

        If you read the entire article, it mentions that Tropical Race 4 is soil-borne. Unless bananas or soil are imported from affected areas to the unaffected areas, there is very small chance that the extinction will occur.

  16. scoccaro says:

    ring..ring… banana phone

  17. ophmarketing says:

    But…but…Kirk Cameron told me that bananas are some sort of intelligent design-y proof of God’s existence. Does this mean God is sick of bananas? Or does he just hate Kirk Cameron?

  18. TheGreySpectre says:

    I love bananas but, strawberries also work well with cereal.

    Also…arn’t there lots of other types of bananas we can eat?

  19. Mr_D says:

    Part of what makes this so devastating is that genetically, all Cavendish bananas are the same plant. They don’t propagate via sexual reproduction, so there’s no way to evolve disease resistance.

  20. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    Damn Why can’t this happen to Brussels Sprouts?

    • mandy_Reeves says:

      ever eat a brussel sprout sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with garlic salt and pepper? HEAVEN! And until last Thursday I was a brussels sprouts hater too!

  21. lehrdude says:

    “They’re racing to genetically engineer two new kinds of bananas”

    …So, they’re making a banana split?

  22. rpm773 says:

    Meh. My local grocer can’t buy them at the right color for my consumption any way. They’re either too green and never ripen before they rot, or they’re too yellow and will rot before i finish them.

    I haven’t enjoyed bananas on a regular basis in a long time. Sucks to your virus!

  23. borgia says:

    I can’t read the article at work so I don’t know if it is mentioned, but what I find interesting is that these “bananas” we eat aren’t even a real species in the tratitional sense anymore. They are sterile and are reproduced through propagation. True wild bananas with seeds are not really as edible in the same manner as we think of with bananas. So arguments about genetically modifying a some what interesting when you are already eating a mutant fruit. Wild bananas that can reproduce have seeds about the size of a pea.

  24. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    cavendish bananas are hardy to transport without bruising so they’ve become the default banana. that has nothing to do with how tasty they are.
    after growing up eating little purple bananas that grow in my parents’ yard in florida, i’d much rather pay more for bananas that taste better and take a little more effort to get to me without damaging them
    what makes me sad about this though is that the cavendish was one of the prime subjects in edible vaccine testing
    http://www.explorebiotech.com/edible_vac.htm

  25. KCDebi says:

    Try Multigrain Cheerios – they’re nummy! ;)

  26. evilpete says:

    since bananas are clones, this was only a matter of time

  27. evilpete says:

    Read this : http://www.damninteresting.com/the-unfortunate-sex-life-of-the-banana

    …”The banana, however, is a freakish and fragile genetic mutant; one that has survived through the centuries due to the sustained application of selective breeding by diligent humans”…

  28. mischlep says:
    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      I find It helps if you read a story, especially one that was last updated 4 years ago, in addition to just posting a link. From Snopes:

      “Lack of genetic diversity does place the banana in a precarious position, and the danger posed by Race 4 to the Cavendish is real.

      “The Cavendish, the banana American consumers are most familiar with, is currently threatened in some Asian countries by a new strain of fusarium wilt known as Panama Disease or Race 4. This soil-borne fungus attacks roots and cannot be controlled by fungicides. If Race 4 were to reach Cavendish plants in large-scale commercial plantations, it could have a devastating impact on the species.

  29. vastrightwing says:

    Bananas are being wiped out! Gas is going to hit $5.00! We’re going to war! We’re running out of water! We have global warming! We have Global cooling! The NFL is going on strike! The Chinese are taking over! All FUD! Now would someone please wake me up when we’re going to run out of beer?

  30. PupJet says:

    Hmm…when they say “Race 4″ I always think of something along the lines of the Indy 500. :P Speaking of Fusarium fungi, what are the other billion “Race X” types? I saw a Race 3 for Tomatos I think.

  31. Cry Havoc says:

    I had no idea there was more than one type of banana. It makes perfect sense that there is, but I guess I only see one type of banana in stores, whereas I see multiple kinds of apples, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. Only one kind of banana though.

  32. Randy_Jeffay says:

    I read that the modern commercial banana has no seeds because they are no longer grown by seed. There is only a single variety which is propagated by grafting cuttings from other trees to new trees. Consequently the fruit trees and fruit have lost their natural immunity to disease and are very susceptible to disease. Therefore the only the banana can survive is by massive application of pesticides fungicides and herbicides. Making the lowly banana one of the most processed and chemically tainted foods available.

  33. DragonsPhoenix says:

    While I doubt that the fungus will actually wipe out the entire species, I think the greater question is how much are you willing to pay for an “organic” banana, and I use that term loosely because as several posts have pointed out, these modern supermarket bananas are a far cry from wild bananas. If the global supply of the cavendish we’re used to takes any kind of hit, the price goes up, and if supply takes a 70% hit, the price will skyrocket. When you’re standing in the produce department, will you really be willing to pay $25/lb to put those banana slices in your cheerios, or will you grab the genetically engineered bargain and save your budget?

  34. mandy_Reeves says:

    DAY-OH!!! DAAAAYYY OHHH!!!! Daylight come and me wanna go home~

    wish they used Harry Belafonte or banana boat song as a tag for this post.

  35. gman863 says:

    Are we overanalyzing this?

    Sometimes a banana is just a banana.