The End of Bananas

For some reason, I’m fascinated by a story I’ve been following for a few months: bananas as we know them may disappear in 10 years:

Two fungal diseases, Panama disease and black Sigatoka, are cutting a swath through banana plantations, just as blight once devastated potato crops. But unlike the potato, and other crops where disease-resistant strains can be bred by conventional means, making a fungus-free variety of the banana is extraordinarily difficult.

As it turns out, all bananas are the same genetically: they’re all cuttings from one original plant, and they’re almost all infertile (where are the seeds? Eh?). But what really blew my mind, when I first read about this, is that the banana we all know and love is not the same our grandparents knew. Before the 1950s, bananas were shorter and fatter and, according to folks who tasted both, sweeter and better. They were Gros Michel (Big Mike), and they were mostly exterminated by a fungus, at which point the Cavendish, today’s banana, replaced Gros Michel. And now, the Cavendish is threatened.

So there are two solutions: genetically modified bananas, or somehow finding enough banana seeds and breeding a new banana that is naturally resistant. Both directions are being explored by various folks, but there’s no guarantee that either will work, of course.

What’s most interesting to me is that, if the natural method succeeds, we’ll have bananas, but they will likely be slightly different. Like a different variety of apple, except you can never go back to the previous one. Maybe it’s seeing the live evolution of a plant, with human assistance, that I find fascinating. The fact that the bananas we know are not the bananas our recent ancestors knew, and the fact that our kids may never know the bananas we enjoy… it makes everything seem a bit more fragile.

2 thoughts on “The End of Bananas

  1. You’re quite right with all the above – and in fact, there are no seeds in the bananas we eat because they were specifically bred out of them for eating purposes. Many wild strains of bananas have huge, indigestible and inedible seeds in them, and it’s these strains they’re trying to cross breed to produce viable seeds to develop new strains.

    In fact, one of the alternate varieties of banana available today does actually taste like apples.

    I wrote a similar article on my site, with most of the main points you covered and few others here

    PS Like the header pic (Acer leaf)!

  2. You’re quite right with all the above – and in fact, there are no seeds in the bananas we eat because they were specifically bred out of them for eating purposes. Many wild strains of bananas have huge, indigestible and inedible seeds in them, and it’s these strains they’re trying to cross breed to produce viable seeds to develop new strains.

    In fact, one of the alternate varieties of banana available today does actually taste like apples.

    I wrote a similar article on my site, with most of the main points you covered and few others here

    PS Like the header pic (Acer leaf)!

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