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Bananas shortage: Threat to most popular fruit

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A fungus with high infectivity threatens the best-selling variety of bananas.

Bananas are under threat. The most popular fruit on the planet is facing a disease that could dramatically change the entire global fruit market.

Now the share of bananas in world trade is estimated at more than $ 36 billion.

In producing countries, the cultivation of bananas provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of people.

What is the problem

A disease called Tropical Race 4 (TR4) was first discovered in Taiwan and is now spreading around the world. In 2016, it was recorded in Africa and Pakistan. In 2019, TR4 reached South America, the main banana-growing region for world trade.

The first plantations have already been closed in Colombia and Honduras. Means to neutralize long-lived fungal spores in the soil do not yet exist. You cannot get rid of the fungus with the help of chemicals. This means that infested areas generally cannot be used for 30-40 years.

Despite the serious threat to banana production, consumer prices remain stable so far. One reason for the stability is that growers in South and Central America contain relatively well the spread of plant disease.

In many equatorial countries of Asia, Africa and America, bananas play the same important role in the diet as we have potatoes or rice. Only about 15% of the world’s total banana crop, estimated at about 114 million tons annually, is exported.

That is, if bananas are threatened, people will lose not only a delicious fruit, but also one of the main foodstuffs.

Hope for scientists

Australian biotechnologist James Dale has created genetically modified Cavendish bananas that are immune to TR4. The industry is now committed to investing funds to support the next step: to try to develop a resistant banana variety that has not been genetically modified.

For this, it is planned to use the technology of genetic scissors Crispr / Cas, but the development of such varieties will take several years. At the same time, the pest affects the Cavendish variety, which accounts for 95% of the world banana sale.

This is not the first time bananas have encountered a harmful fungus. In the 1960s, the market was dominated by Gros Michel bananas, not Cavendish – they were larger, sweeter and more flavorful, and easier to peel than Cavendish. But then they were supplanted by the TR1 fungus, a close relative of TR4, and today they have all but disappeared.

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