We don’t miss things until they’re gone. The once exotic banana, for example, is not as trendy as those hip super-nutrient-packed berries making headlines, and relatively few entrepreneurs are rushing to put bananas in ciders and craft beers. Last time we checked, there was no La Croix Banana on the shelves, and we haven’t seen many fancy cocktails featuring the fruit.
And trouble is coming from another side as bananas are now threatened with near extinction. Again. The banana in a 1950s lunchbox was a cultivar known as Gros Michel, before it was virtually wiped out by Fusarium Wilt, aka Panama disease—specifically a strain of a Fusarium fungus referred to as Tropical Race 1 (TR1).
The banana many of us grew up slicing into our cereal is a cultivar known as Cavendish, but Panama disease—Tropical Race 4 or TR4, specifically—is now threatening it.
A wild Madagascan banana, however, might hold the key to a cure. The species is the Ensete Perrieri, and by evolving in isolation, it may have developed genetic traits that make it resistant to TR4. There are some obstacles: It’s almost extinct (there are only five trees left in the wild), and it has seeds and, thus, is inedible.
Senior conservation assessor Richard Allen, from the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, feels the plant has promise for finally developing a truly resistant banana cultivar, but they first must save the plant from extinction before research can proceed.
Let’s get on with it!
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