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Deadly Fungal Disease: Are Bananas Endangered?


Panama disease could mean the end of the banana

Even if the banana is currently still available in every supermarket, its existence is threatened. The so-called Panama disease, a type of fungal infection, has spread widely in Africa and Asia. So far there is no antidote. Most of the commercial acreage for bananas is in South America. Experts fear the banana will end if the fungal disease reaches South America.

Scientists see a possible rescue in the Malagasy banana, an original, non-domesticated form. This type of banana with inedible fruit appears to be immune to the deadly plant disease. But this species is also close to extinction. Only five fruit-bearing trees are known in Madagascar. The species has recently been put on the red list of endangered species.

Bananas could be extinct in 5 years

The scientists at the “Kew Royal Botanic Gardens” in Great Britain see the genes of the Malagasy banana as a possible solution to Panama disease. However, this form must first be saved from extinction. "We can't do research until it's saved," Richard Allen, who heads conservation at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, told BBC. If no solution to this problem is found, the exotic berry with its many healthy properties could be extinct in five years.

What is Panama disease?

Panama disease is a fungal disease that affects the roots of a banana plant. It was first documented in Panama in the 1950s and from there it spread to neighboring Central American countries like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. The disease is caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense fired. This already wiped out the Gros Michel banana, which was exported from Central America to the United States. The world's most cultivated Cavendish banana is now considered endangered. So far, no chemical ways are known of how this fungal disease can be controlled.

Are wild relatives the solution?

In the “Kew Royal Botanic Gardens”, wild relatives of crops are preserved and examined. According to the experts working there, these original species contain an incredible amount of genetic diversity, which is an invaluable resource for the improvement of crops. Many of their characteristics have the potential to make crops more resistant so that they can adapt to the new climatic conditions, the researchers report.

Twelve percent of wild plants are threatened with extinction

According to the scientists, twelve percent of all wild plant species are currently threatened with extinction. Deforestation, urban expansion, climate change and conflicts in crisis areas are the most common reasons for mass extinction. (vb)

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