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Scientists scramble to stop bananas being killed off

Categories: Articles:Environment | Published: 22/06/2018 | Views: 490

Banana plantations in Australia, south-east Asia, Africa and the Middle East have been ravaged by the ‘fusarium wilt’ fungus – and Latin America could be next - a new report in the Guardian.

A British company has joined the race to develop a banana variety resistant to diseases and climatic changes that threaten to disrupt the availability of the country’s favourite fruit – or even kill it off altogether.

The UK alone consumes more than 5bn bananas a year, while the fruit is a staple food in many poor countries and accounts for an export industry worth $13bn (£9.8bn) a year. 

But the global supply chain is threatened by a virulent disease that has been attacking plantations in Australia, south-east Asia and parts of Africa and the Middle East.

As experts warn the fungus known as “fusarium wilt”, or Panama disease, could spread to Latin America, from where the majority of bananas are exported, scientists are scrambling to create a more robust variety that could help sustain the crop.

A single type of banana, called the Cavendish, accounts for 99.9% of bananas traded globally. It replaced a tastier variety wiped out by disease in the 1950s.

Now researchers at the Norwich-based startup Tropic Biosciences are using gene editing techniques to develop a more resilient version of the Cavendish after securing $10m from investors. 

The company’s CEO, Gilad Gershon, said: “In the developed world we tend to take bananas for granted. A banana found in your local supermarket grown in Costa Rica and shipped to the UK probably costs less than an apple grown 20 miles away.

“If you look at the broader consumption on top of exports, the banana industry is worth a massive $30bn a year. However,people have been getting increasingly worried because the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”  Read on here 


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