After the popular banana variety known as Gros Michel was nearly wiped completely from the face of the Earth in the mid years of 1900, the banana market is facing the threat of extinction once again due to similar causes.
The Gros Michel was the most popular banana species of past centuries due to its sweetness and large fruit. It was exported all over the world from plantations in Latin America since the 1800s. But a virus called the Panama Disease nearly wiped them all out, making them extinct from a commercial viewpoint. This urged the market to focus on a different strain of banana, the one we currently eat today, the Cavendish.
A research team has found that a similar strain of the Panama Disease virus is currently attacking the Cavendish bananas in Asia and Australia as we speak. This new virus, called the Tropical Race 4, functions exactly like the aforementioned Panama Disease, by attacking the plant and killing it completely. This is extremely ill for both the public masses as well as the banana market as a whole because there is no way of combating this virus or containing it in any way.
The ease that the Tropical Race 4 has in its spread is largely due to the fact that the market focuses on monoculture bananas, meaning that the bananas we eat are basically clones of an original banana. This process is undergone in order to circumvent various defects that some bananas may have and it also has an increased production rate.
Because the bananas don’t really differ from one another from both a genetic and a structural viewpoint, the virus targets and annihilate all of them in one fell swoop if it manages to reach a plantation. The same event occurred as well in 1800 with the Panama Disease, even if plantations were moved around Latin America in order to stop the virus from spreading. It spread without taking into account the location or other various factors.
Taking into account that the current market is comprised of almost 98% from Cavendish bananas, a worldwide epidemic would be devastating. A way to combat this, scientists claim, is an improved genetic diversity in bananas, basically giving up on the idea of monoculture fruits which are inherently susceptible to diseases due to their genetic stagnation.
Even if the banana market is facing the threat of extinction once again, our technology, as well as our understanding on how various pathogens function, has advanced greatly since the last fruit epidemic had spread across Earth. We can still hold high hopes that the bananas we know and love today, the Cavendish commercialized by both Dole and Chiquita, will not be going the way of the dodo any time soon. But the fact that steps have to be taken in order to circumvent these occurrences in the future is still present.