Let’s just say it’s not looking good – at least according to researchers from Wageningen University, Netherlands, who say that a deadly soil fungus is threatening the world’s banana plantations.
The relentless fungus, which has been ongoing in Taiwan and has already wiped out plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, attacks the plant’s vascular system by cutting off its access to water in the soil. In turn, the plants wilt and die. Experts warn that the problem will soon reach Latin America – where most of the bananas found in our supermarkets come from – saying that the spread of the fungus to that region appears to be inevitable.
Specifically, the researchers have identified the fungus as a clone of a Panama disease called Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which threatens the Cavendish banana in particular. Of the world’s banana production and exports, 47 percent are comprised of this type of banana.
Destructive fungus a serious epidemic
The researchers have detailed their findings in the journal, PLOS Pathogens, in a paper entitled, “Worse Comes to Worst: Bananas and Panama Disease – When Plant and Pathogen Clones Meet.” There, they state that “By now, TR4 may have affected up to approximately 100,000 hectares, and it is likely that it will disseminate further—either through infected plant material, contaminated soil, tools, or footwear, or due to flooding and inappropriate sanitation measures. Clearly, the current expansion of the Panama disease epidemic is particularly destructive due to the massive monoculture of susceptible Cavendish bananas.”
It is also explained that this problem can be traced back to the 1800s, where bananas experienced a wilting disease in Australia. Later, the disease was found to affect the “Gros Michel” banana in Costa Rica and Panama. It ultimately spiraled into a significant problem, which the researchers say was “among the worst in agricultural history.”
It wasn’t until the early 1900s that Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc), or Panama disease, was determined to be the cause in Cuba. And now the PLOS Pathogens paper notes that TR4 is indeed an epidemic which “should be the wake-up call” to facilitate disease management research and related funding.
How loss of banana crops could affect your health
Bananas are considered to be the most popular fruit in the United States. Not only are they enjoyed for their pleasant taste, but they’re coveted for their amazing health benefits. Some of the ways bananas are good for you include:
Improves mood: bananas contain vitamin B6 as well as the amino acid tryptophan, both of which help the body regulate mood. If you’ve ever felt happier after eating them, that may explain why; eating just one medium-sized banana provides 22 percent of our recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin B6.
Provides a variety of vitamins and minerals: In addition to providing your body with vitamin B6, bananas also deliver vitamin C, manganese, potassium and other vitamins and minerals, all of which help keep your system functioning optimally.
Boosts heart health: Some studies have found that eating bananas plays a role in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, which can improve cardiovascular health. They’re also a good source of fiber, which is linked to lowered heart disease risk.
Helps digestion: Not only does the fiber in bananas help with heart health, but it’s also associated with easing the digestive process. Fiber regulates the entire digestive process, ensuring that digestion occurs at proper speeds and with utmost efficiency. Bananas also contain unique fructose-containing carbohydrates which keep bacteria in the lower intestine balanced. All of this adds up to a well-functioning digestive system.
It would be a shame if this disease continues to spread to the epic proportions experts suggest it could, since bananas are not only part of the environment and a common food enjoyed by many, but they have excellent health benefits.