The Banana We Know and Love is Facing Extinction

From smoothies and pancakes to peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate chip muffins, everyone knows that bananas make things just a little bit better.

Even on their own, bananas are always a great fruit of choice, with a peel that protects their inner goodness from the abuse of your purse or briefcase.

That’s what makes this news harder to digest: the beloved fruit’s existence is now threatened by a fungus that could see the banana decline to extinction from store shelves. The disease threatens bananas for the second time in 50 years, as it spreads from Asia to other locations around the world.

Fifty years ago, the Panama disease, also known as Fusarium fungus, spread through Central America, forcing growers to burn their banana crops. Once the fungus infects the soil, it also infects the root system of the banana plant, taking control of the banana through its vascular system and infecting entire plantations.

As a result, growers globally had to grow a new type of banana. The solution was the tasty Gros Michel banana variety, which was replaced by the blander Cavendish cultivar when it became extinct (meaning, our grandparents remember a better tasting banana). Now, however, a new strain of the Panama disease – called Tropical Race 4 – is infecting Cavendish bananas worldwide.

The banana we know and love could meet the same fate as the Gros Michel in a matter of decades.

According to a study published on Nov. 19 in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the newer strain of the disease has spread like wildfire across Cavendish plantations in parts of South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia despite efforts to contain it.

The good news for us is that it hasn’t reached the shores of Central or South America yet – the main growing regions for bananas that are sold in Canada – but it could be only a matter of time.

That’s because nobody seems to know how to stop it.

Scientists are working to develop a genetically modified version of the Cavendish that would be similar to the banana we know, but that would be resistant to Panama disease.

So, in the not-too-distant future you may want to consider purchasing an extra freezer to preserve as many bananas as humanly possible before they become but a distant memory.