Bananas in danger

2003/01/22 Roa Zubia, Guillermo - Elhuyar Zientzia

Two diseases caused by fungi endanger the production of bananas.

It is a serious problem. Mycosphaerella fijiensis and Fusarium sp. Bananas cannot cope with diseases caused by fungi. They have no resistance to fungi and are sick.

The loss of these plants will cause the loss of banana production, which will have a major influence in many countries of Central America, Africa and Asia. There, banana is a fundamental food for many people; the loss of bananas would lead to a crisis and hunger in those lands.

It is a difficult problem to solve because in the world very few varieties of banana are cultivated. Like most fruit trees, farmers reproduce clones of a genotype. This is an effective procedure for the growth of a large number of trees, although the diversity of the species is so small that if they get sick there are not many expectations of saving resistant varieties.

Even when the plants were healthy, the situation was not natural. Half of the world's bananas, for example, are specimens of the Cavendish variety. The bananas sold, in addition to sterile, are triploid (with three genome copies of each chromosome). In nature, individuals have seeds and, of course, are diploids. It is a very modified product. What can be done to cure banana?

There are those who think the solution is genetic engineering: if bananas are put on resistant genes, they could be cured before being lost. However, this decision implies a great controversy as it would become transgenic products.

However, scientists are decoding the banana genome to find more solutions.