I came across the article “No, Seriously. Save the Bananas” published in the New York Times (August 13, 2005) by Paul B. Brown. The article is on how the banana (variety Cavendish) was being wiped out by a fungus. This article reminded me of some research on this banana disease I conducted in East Africa in collaboration with scientists from CABI BioScience and University of Kent, UK in the late 1990s. The disease is commonly known as panama disease or fusarium wilt of banana. As the latter name suggests, the disease is caused by a special form of Fusarium oxysporum (Fusarium oxysporum special form cubense).
This fungus can be devastating to susceptible varieties of bananas. We witnessed whole “plantations” wiped out by this disease, causing a lot of suffering to poor farmers who depend on this crop for their livelihood. The fungus appears to have a liking for sweet varieties of bananas, i.e., varieties used for fruit or dessert. It goes through the roots and into the vascular bundles clogging them and hence restricting movement of water and nutrients. This results into yellowing and wilting of leaves and subsequently death of the whole banana plant. One striking phenomena about this fungus is that some strains (referred to as races) only attack specific cultivars of the sweet bananas and not others. However, the Cavendish is attacked by a strain recently discovered strain referred to as “race 4”, which is capable of attacking not only the Cavendish but also other cultivars susceptible to other races.
No, seriously, we need to save the banana from moulds.
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