They Flew Across the World on a Failed Quest for a Banana

Inside the search for the Cavendish banana's successor
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 25, 2017 8:29 AM CST
They Flew Across the World on a Failed Quest for a Banana
A stock photo of bananas.   (Getty Images)

The Cavendish banana—that's the kind sitting in your kitchen right now—is "almost perfect," a scientist with Dole Food Co. tells the Wall Street Journal. Well, "laments," is the word the paper uses. That's because, as has been reported for the past couple of years, it looks doomed, and none of the 1,500 other types of edible bananas found on Earth have yet to be identified as a worthy replacement. The issue with the Cavendish is one of biology and disease: A fungus that attacks the fruit has struck in Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East; the banana-heavy Latin America and the Caribbean have thus far been spared. And as the Journal explains, "Cavendish bananas are seedless, so their plants are genetic clones," which makes the fungus particularly potent.

The steps being taken to find the next replacement are serious ones: The UN in October announced it's spending nearly $100 million in its quest to either stop the fungus or find new varieties. Filipino researchers are searching the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines in hope of finding a worthy successor. European researchers went all the way to Papua New Guinea looking for the fabled "Giant Banana" plant. They didn't find it. Others are tinkering in labs, in an attempt to arrive at a disease-resistant mutated variety or a hybrid that isn't orange and doesn't taste like latex, as one scientist describes his former creations. The Times of London traces the history of the Cavendish, and notes that history is repeating itself: The Big Mike was once the banana king, but a fungus wiped nearly all of them out in the 1950s. (Read more banana stories.)

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