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Brent Eubanks

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Yes we have no bananas [Jun. 2nd, 2008|10:12 am]
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This is a pretty interesting article on the new disease threat confronting the world's banana supply, along with some history (that I did not know) of the banana. The article also makes an interesting point that the banana is a good candidate for genetic engineering because it spreads vegetatively, rather than by seed. That fact eliminates one of my major objections to GE crops (i.e. the inability to contain a potentially bad strain, onces it's planted out).
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[User Picture]From: siliconshaman
2008-06-02 07:04 pm (UTC)

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I remember reading about what happened to the Gros Micheal strain while I was at university during the mid-80's. At the time the prof pointed out that should another disease arise or a new variant of the previous one that the banana would effectively be doomed since genetically, they were all identical and thus would all be susceptible. He also said that the companies had been told this right from the start and that recommendations to start an immediate breeding program to introduce diversity had been ignored.

But since when has big business listened to science?

I wonder if putting samples on ice would help. One could wait for the disease to run it's course and go extinct after the banana's do, and then clone up some healthy plants. [I guess it would depend on how long spores for the fungus last in the wild and whether it has any other vector plants.]
[User Picture]From: a_steep_hill
2008-06-02 07:13 pm (UTC)

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Fusarium wilt is a problem for tomatoes and similar plants, and it persists in the soil year after year. I don't know how similar that strain is the banana strain, but I wouldn't count on it going away just because the bananas do.
[User Picture]From: ouraboros
2008-06-02 10:22 pm (UTC)

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Is there a host for this Fusarium for which it is benign? (ie Typhoid Mary-like)

I guess the question is whether or not this strain would linger on in a less lethal mode in related plants like plantain and "small bananas"...I wouldn't be surprised at all if this situation was similar to other parasitic situations, where one system of commensalism/mutualism changed when a third potential host species came along. It could be there is some other organism which co-exists peacefully with this particular Fusarium, but then bananas were both more infectious and were harmed more easily...
[User Picture]From: a_steep_hill
2008-06-02 10:46 pm (UTC)

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As I understand it, fusarium is a soil-borne fungus that is frequently present and hard to eradicate. Some tomatoes are resistant to it (particularly hybrid cherries), but that resistance seems to take the form of outgrowing the problem: the older leave wilt, but more slowly, and the plant generates enough new growth that it isn't a problem for an annual that is going to die anyway in a few months. Probably this approach to "resistance" isn't viable in a banana which is a perennial (or at least multi-year) plant.

I know a dude who was trying to grow bananas in greenhouses in West Sonoma County. He was going for exotic varieties (ice cream banana, anyone?) and hoping to sell to local boutique markets. I suspect that if they can't stop it some other way, fusarium may drive more of this kind of cultivation -- if you keep your soil clean, I think you could grow successfully this way. But that will be the end of large-volume production and cheap bananas.
[User Picture]From: dawn_pillsbury
2008-06-03 03:31 am (UTC)

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Globalization giveth with one hand and taketh with the other.

And Vince, the Sebastabanana guy, told me he had buyers for every single one of his bananas from the first day he had enough to sell. I think he'll be filling out those greenhouses soon, if he hasn't already.

It's too bad that all strains of banana are susceptible to Panama. If it just ate Cavendish, we could have a banana renaissance. If they manage to come up with a transgenic, resistant banana, I bet it won't be as tasty as even the Cavendish. Gods, I hope the apple banana survives.
[User Picture]From: ouraboros
2008-06-03 05:37 am (UTC)

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but i like my banana bread...

if i made it with apple bananas, i suspect that would be bizarre...
[User Picture]From: mdrohl
2008-06-03 03:57 am (UTC)

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In the highlands of PNG, they usually have about ten different varieties growing in a single village. I have no doubt that if the current strain gets wiped out, there is enough diversity out there that something else commercially viable would be found very quickly. The banana shortage would last only a few years.