Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Bananas will be extinct within ten years.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2003]
Origins: Once again, the ecological doomsday bell has been set to tolling, this time by folks fearful of the imminent demise of our favorite fruit, the banana. In January 2003, a report in New Scientist suggested bananas could well disappear within ten years thanks to two blights: black Sigatoka, a leaf fungus, and Panama disease, a soil fungus which attacks the roots of the plant. Those claims have since been disputed.
Bananas aren't about to be swept from the face of the earth by a deadly pestilence poised to wipe them out. There are about
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
Bananas stand in greater peril to disease and insect damage than the majority of other fruits because they are sterile, seedless mutants. New plants are created from cuttings of existing ones, making them little more than clones of one another. Without the natural diversity resulting from sexual reproduction, bananas continue on generation after generation with the same genetic makeup. Their inability to mutate and adapt leaves them vulnerable to species-wide disaster, because what fells one of them will prove the undoing of every plant within that particular variety. In the 1960s the Gros Michel, then a hugely popular variety of the fruit, was wiped out by another strain of Panama Disease. The loss of the Gros Michel promoted the Cavendish into the
Lack of genetic diversity does place the banana in a precarious position, and the danger posed by
"Diseases are, and will remain, major constraints to both export and subsistence production of banana, and there is no doubt that Black Sigatoka and Panama Disease constitute the most important threats," said Randy C. Ploetz, Professor at the University of Florida's Tropical Research and Education Center. "However, it is unlikely that these problems will cause production to decrease greatly in the next decade, let alone that the crop will become extinct."For Race 4 to spread into the large plantations, either infected banana suckers or infested soil would have to be introduced into the growing fields. Practices allowing this type of spread are strictly forbidden in the export-producing countries, and new plantations are started from pathogen-free, tissue cultured plants. Therefore, despite the seriousness of the threat posed by
Bananas are a nutritional gold mine. At only
Bananas, by the way, grow on plants, not trees. One last bit of banana trivia: a bunch of bananas is properly styled a hand, and a single fruit a finger.
Barbara "so give someone you love a hand" Mikkelson
Last updated: 20 February 2007
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