Scientists warn that the most popular type of banana could be on the brink of extinction due to a disease outbreak that’s ravaging the common food staple.
“Nobody is even close to solving the problem,” Dan Koeppel, author of the book “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World,” told Business Insider.
The Cavendish banana, the common supermarket variety that comprises nearly half of all bananas humans consume, is under attack from a vicious fungal infection called Panama disease (Fusarium wilt) tropical race 4.
This fungal epidemic attacks the tree’s roots and spreads throughout the plant, starving it of food and water until it eventually dies.
Tropical Race 4, aka TR4, was first found in Taiwan in 1989, and has now spread to Australia, then India and China, the world’s largest banana producers, as well as the Middle East and Africa.
James Dale, a professor and leader of the banana biotechnology program at Queensland University of Technology, has stated the disease is now in South America.
“The disease moves slowly, so we have at least a decade before the impact is drastic,” Dale said.
“I would say with certainty that there will be a solution before the export market for Cavendish is severely affected.”
Some scientists in Taiwan are experimenting with exposing Cavendish seedlings to TR4 to make them resistant, like a banana vaccine.
“Once it’s in a country it’s very hard to get rid of it,” said Dan Bebber, a biosciences lecturer at the University of Exeter, in 2019.