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Though their sexy shape may resemble a "GoldMember," modern-day bananas simply aren't shagadellic. According to Belgian and French scientists, bananas may become extinct within the next 10 years due to their lack of genetic diversity, which makes them prone to attacks by diseases.
There are two primary fungal diseases attacking banana plantation, Panama disease and black Sigatoka. Biotechnology and genetic manipulation may be the only way to save the fruit. Scientists hope to find disease-resistant genes from a non-edible variation of the banana, and then inject them in the edible ones. Unfortunately, it's difficult to develop genetic variance in asexually reproducing plants. Cross-pollination with these wild plants is possible, but scientists claim it won't be easy.
Almost all bananas, as we know them today, are clones of naturally mutant wild bananas, which were discovered as many as 10,000 years ago. This rare mutation caused wild bananas to grow sterile. To keep the fruit alive, ancient farmers took cuttings of the mutants, then cuttings of the cuttings, and so on. According to a recent article published in The Guardian, "Plants use reproduction to continuously shuffle their gene pool, building up variety so that part of the species will survive an otherwise deadly disease. Because sterile mutant bananas cannot breed, they do not have that protection."
Honduran scientists have peeled and sifted 400 tons of bananas in an effort to find seeds for breeding—they found 15 of them. Though it may not sound like many, scientists are developing a fungus-resistant variety that could be grown organically.
Sure, modern science may be able to save this fruit, but even if bananas survive thenext 10 years, chances are they will look and taste quite different.
This article was featured in the January 2003 issue of Sophia's Royal Report: http://www.sophiainguelph.com/
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