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A Banana Named Dolly

By admin | August 3, 2011

Photo: Fernando Stankuns

By: Dylan Rodgers

I love bananas.  They are perfectly shaped to fit our human-hands, they come in a nifty, easy-to-open case, and where there is one, there’s always a bunch.  While walking through a produce market, I noticed that the bananas all looked exactly the same.  To test possible lack of attention to detail, I picked one up and studied it intently.  After feeling as though I could draw it from memory, I placed it back down, finished my shopping, and attempted to find that specific banana again.  One of the market’s employees noticed me searching through his banana pile with a distraught look on my face and asked me what I was doing.  After my explanation he laughed and said, “Don’t you know that they are all clones?”

Clones?  Yes, almost every banana that you can buy at the supermarket has been cloned from a single variety named Cavendish. The process is called vegetative propagation where budding sprouts from the base of the plant are themselves planted, carrying on the exact same genetic code as the mother plant.  This method, first started in 1836, has preserved the famous flavor and texture of the most popular banana in the world, but at what cost?

Because the Cavendish banana is not allowed to reproduce naturally, it cannot develop immunities to fungus or disease.  In fact, the Black Sigatoka fungus single handedly destroys anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the world’s banana crops.  To many Americans, it may seem easy enough to live without a daily dose of yellow fruit; but to put it into perspective, bananas are the fourth most important cash crop in the world.  Roughly half a billion people depend on the world’s banana market for monetary purposes alone.  So the big question is, if Black Sigatoka wiped out the world’s banana population, where would we go from there?

Aside from being susceptible to all the same disease, our methods of vegetative propagation have resulted in the Cavendish banana having no seeds.  If there are no seeds, there may be no way to for the Cavendish strain to continue.  This is by no means the end of the banana, but as for the Cavendish variety that we have grown to love, it may be the beginning of the end.

How often do you eat bananas?

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