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Scientists Discover New Way To Save Bananas From Going Extinct

By Brian Spaen

Over 50 years ago, bananas were temporarily extinct. Even though we tend to just call them “bananas,” there’s actually different species of the fruit available. Why? In short, the Panama disease that spread in 1965 contaminated much of the banana plantations that grew one species used for worldwide exporting at the time. The plantations had to be burned down and eventually a new, alternative banana that was immune to the disease became popular. With a new strain of the disease threatening the current version of banana that's most well known, scientists may have found resistant genes to keep the fruit alive.

The type of banana most of us eat now is called the Cavendish. Prior to becoming the dominant version, people ate a better, longer-lasting banana called the Gros Michel. By comparison, the Cavendish is still a tasty fruit, but it’s a clone of any other banana in the species. While it’s been the recent favorite, a new strain of Tropical Race 4 (TR4), a fungal disease, is affecting the Cavendish cultivar at a rapid pace.

The TR4 disease is a wicked one, as once it shows up in a banana plantation, the entire plantation needs to be burned down to start fresh. It’s wiped out numerous plantations in South Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East as it continues to spread rapidly across the world. The United States gets most of their bananas from Latin America, and it’s only a matter of time before the disease reaches there, too.