How genetic modification could save bananas from extinction

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banana-1524172-640x427Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world, but a rapidly spreading fungus has the potential to wipe them out. The fungus, called Fusarium oxysporum Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is sickening the Cavendish banana.

The fungus originated in Southeast Asia, and over the past decade, has spread to Africa, Australia, and the Middle East. Many fear that it will spread to Central and South America, where 82 percent of the world s banana supply is grown.

The problem is that our bananas are monoculture crops the Cavendish banana makes up about 99 percent of commercially available bananas. The obvious solution would be diversification, but experts believe diversification alone won t be adequate.

The best solution is to mix diversification with GMOs. And there s been previous success with this over the past four to five years, researchers have genetically modified Cavendish bananas in labs to have resistance to TR4. But major banana companies like Chiquita and Dole have promised to never genetically modify their bananas for no other reason than that they know consumers are (needlessly) fearful of GMOs. But will the potential loss of 85 percent of all the world s bananas be enough to change their minds?

For a more information delving deeper into this topic, check out the excellent Good Magazine article by Mark Hay.