Bananas Could Be Wiped Out In the Next 5-10 Years Due to Fast Evolving Fungal Disease

Zarmeen Shahzad
Posted Aug 20, 2016
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Science has recently discovered something that might incur panic in banana lovers. There is a significant chance that our next generation may not even get to see a banana. Shocking, right? Scientists sequenced the genomes of three fungal diseases that threaten the crop of bananas and during this study they came across something very disturbing. All these fungi have evolved over the years and are now at the point where they are strong enough to completely wipe out the banana crop in the next 5-10 years. It is hard to accept this but this bad news comes with good news as well. We know the genetic sequence of these fungi and hence we may be able to save the banana crop.

The attack of the super-fungi

Study leaders from Davis and University of California said, “In reality, the global banana industry could be wiped out in just five to 10 years by fast-advancing fungal diseases”. This news came out when we found out last year, that fungi, not mentioned in the paper Panama disease, had spread across South Africa, Africa, The Middle East and Australia, despite many attempts to quarantine the disease.

For this latest research, the team looked into a disease called Sigatoka. This disease is the result of infection by 3 types of fungi that reduce the crop yield by nearly 40% every year. Scientists from University of California, Davis and Netherlands sequenced the genomes of these three strains; yellow Sigatoka (Pseudocercospora musae), eumusae leaf spot (Pseudocercospora eumusae), and black Sigatoka (Pseudocercospora figiensis).

It was discovered that these strains had become more dangerous due to evolution and were able to harm the metabolism along with the immune system of the crop. One researcher, Ioannis Stergiopoulos said, “We have demonstrated that two of the three most serious banana fungal diseases have become more virulent by increasing their ability to manipulate the banana’s metabolic pathways and make use of its nutrients”

He further added, “This parallel change in metabolism of the pathogen and the host plant has been overlooked until now and may represent a ‘molecular fingerprint’ of the adaption process. It is really a wake-up call to the research community to look at similar mechanisms between pathogens and their plant hosts.”

fungal

Does the fruit have a future?

The researchers put forward a very interesting statement and said that the fruit suffers from an ‘image problem’. This means that the fruit is so common that it is generally believed that it will be around forever even though they are very vulnerable to pathogen species. But why are they so vulnerable? Most bananas are of the Cavendish variety and are grown from shoot cutting instead of seeds.

Stergiopoulos said, “The Cavendish banana plants all originated from one plant and so as clones, they all have the same genotype – and that is a recipe for disaster”. Simply stated it means that a disease that is capable of killing one plant can destroy all plants easily. Common sense suggests that to deal with this problem some other variety of bananas should be created other than the Cavendish variety.

It is a good idea but as Bec crew reported only last year that this entire process will require a lot of time and money. Instead it can be hoped that scientists can modify the current crop so that it becomes resistant to the dangerous fungal strains. Either this can be done or some new fungicide created that can destroy fungi without harming the crop. Well, whatever the scientists decide to do, we know for sure that this beautiful fruit is in danger and if something isn’t done fast, we may not be able to enjoy it for too long.

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