Quirks & Quarks

Yes, We May Soon Have No Bananas

Banana plantations around the world are threatened by a new strain of a deadly banana blight, to which the dominant commercial strain of fruit has no defence.

A new mutant strain of a banana-killing fungus has been spreading quickly

Cavendish bananas are extremely vulnerable to fungal blight. (Steve Hopson/www.stevehopson.com)
In the mid 1900's, the most popular variety of banana in the world - the Gros Michel - was almost completely wiped out by a fungus known as Panama Disease. The Gros Michel was replaced by the Cavendish banana, which makes up about 95 percent of the world's banana exports.

But a new study by Dr. Gert Kema, a senior researcher with Plant Research International at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, has identified a new and more potent strain of Panama Disease. The new strain - Tropical Race 4 - began infecting bananas in Southeast Asia 50 years ago and has since spread to other parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

Researchers fear that unless a way to stop or contain the disease is found, it will reach the largest banana producing region in the world, Latin America, (which supplies all of Canada's bananas) in a few decades. 

Related Links

Paper in PLOS Pathogens
- Wageningen University release
- Washington Post story
The Telegraph story