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Bye Bye Bananas — the Return of Panama Disease 519

Ant sends in a disturbing report in The Scientist on an imminent threat to worldwide banana production. "The banana we eat today is not the one your grandparents ate. That one — known as the Gros Michel — was, by all accounts, bigger, tastier, and hardier than the variety we know and love, which is called the Cavendish. The unavailability of the Gros Michel is easily explained: it is virtually extinct. Introduced to our hemisphere in the late 19th century, the Gros Michel was almost immediately hit by a blight that wiped it out by 1960. The Cavendish was adopted at the last minute by the big banana companies — Chiquita and Dole — because it was resistant to that blight, a fungus known as Panama disease... [Now] Panama disease — or Fusarium wilt of banana — is back, and the Cavendish does not appear to be safe from this new strain, which appeared two decades ago in Malaysia, spread slowly at first, but is now moving at a geometrically quicker pace. There is no cure, and nearly every banana scientist says that though Panama disease has yet to hit the banana crops of Latin America, which feed our hemisphere, the question is not if this will happen, but when. Even worse, the malady has the potential to spread to dozens of other banana varieties, including African bananas, the primary source of nutrition for millions..."

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