In what can only be described as poetic injustice, the most priapic fruit in the world may go extinct within five to ten years for lack of sex. I feel for you, brutha. India’s glorious, 12″ long banana fruit has been neutered by the cruel, cruel world (thanks, tipster):
The world’s most popular fruit… is in deep trouble. Its genetic base, the wild bananas and traditional varieties cultivated in India, has collapsed…
The main hope for survival of the Cavendish [variety] lies in developing new hybrids resistant to the [black sigatoka] fungus, but… the seedless modern fruit does not reproduce sexually and has to be bred from cuttings.
… wild banana species are rapidly going extinct as Indian forests are destroyed… In fact many of the genes that could save the Cavendish may already have been lost… One variety that contains genes that resist black sigatoka survives as a single plant in the botanical gardens of Calcutta… [Link]
The banana’s problem is that it is the seedless, infertile mutant cousin of a wild herb. The absence of seeds makes its fruit edible, but also genetically vulnerable… They have survived only because for some 10,000 years banana-lovers have propagated the fruit by taking shoots from the base of the plants…
The most widespread banana disease currently is a leaf fungus called black Sigatoka. It cuts yields by 50 percent or more on hundreds of millions of small farms across the tropics. Commercial banana plantations keep up production with weekly applications of fungicides – the most intensive application of chemicals on any major food crop. But now a new strain of an old disease, Panama disease, threatens to make even fungicides useless…
“In the 1970s we controlled Black Sigatoka by spraying 10 to 12 times a year…” That frequency has jumped to almost weekly… [Link]
p>Our Cuban brothers have access to a hybrid fruit which I dub the banapple. In Uganda, you can even buy banana beer.
… little research has been done. Almost the only result of 80 years of endeavor has been a banana that tastes like an apple and is only eaten in Cuba, where there is nothing else on the supermarket shelves. [Link]
In the densely populated countries around Lake Victoria–Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda–bananas are primary nutrition, accounting for near-total carbohydrate consumption in some diets (in Uganda, the word for food, “matooke,” translates from Swahili as “banana”). The bananas eaten in East Africa are not the dessert-style fruit consumed in the West; they are far more versatile (there’s even a beer brewed from bananas sold in Kampala). [Link]
A banocalypse has already happened once before:
The banana producers began as railroad companies, with friendly local governments granting thousands of acres of surrounding rainforest for each mile of track laid… By the early 1900s, bananas surpassed apples as the nation’s favorite fruit…
Until the early 1960s, American cereal bowls and ice cream dishes were filled with the Gros Michel, a banana that was larger and, by all accounts, tastier than the fruit we now eat. Like the Cavendish, the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” accounted for nearly all the sales of sweet bananas in the Americas and Europe. But starting in the early part of the last century, a fungus called Panama disease began infecting the Big Mike harvest…
… the 1923 musical hit “Yes! We Have No Bananas” is said to have been written after songwriters Frank Silver and Irving Cohn were denied in an attempt to purchase their favorite fruit by a syntactically colorful, out-of-stock neighborhood grocer…
Once a little-known species, the Cavendish was eventually accepted as Big Mike’s replacement after billions of dollars in infrastructure changes were made to accommodate different growing and ripening needs. [Link]
p>One solution is to force a reverse mutation back into sexual reproduction using seeds:
The goal of all this is to get seeds, and to use them to grow Aguilar’s experimental varieties, one of which, he hopes, will ultimately yield a tasty, market-friendly Cavendish replacement. What are the odds of an individual seed ultimately yielding a thriving hybrid? “About 1 in 10,000,” Aguilar says.
It takes about four months for a pollinated plant to bear fruit, which is harvested and brought to a processing shed for seed extraction. Workers press thousands of bananas through mesh strainers. About one seed is found for every 300 bananas. The seeds are then brought indoors, to what Aguilar calls the “embryo rescue unit.” Of the tiny number of seeds, only a third of them actually germinate. [Link]
p>Another researcher thinks the threat of banana extinction will force the first mass adoption of genetically modified food:
How much time is left for the Cavendish? Some scientists say five years; some say 10…
The race to save the banana is personal. “The bananas,” he says, “are my children…”
Swennen emphasizes that biotech is literally the only way to save the Cavendish, which, because it is 100 percent seedless, can’t be improved on by traditional hybridization methods… “I can’t understand this romantic idea that nature is perfect, and that what we do is create Frankensteins,” Swennen says. People “are frightened–and they’re wrong.” He believes that the threats bananas face mean that they are likely to be the bioengineered food that finally forces global shoppers to consider–and accept–science’s inevitable intervention in the agricultural process. [Link]
But if the banana does ever die out, it’s peanut butter jelly time for all of us (audio)