Bananas & Tomatoes

More than 400 million people depend on the banana (Musa acuminata) as their staple food. After wheat, rice and corn, banana is the fourth food crop worldwide. Annual production is about 100 million tons.

But the banana faces major problems: the plant is susceptible to a number of fungal diseases. During the middle of the last century, the 'Gros Michel' banana variety was wiped out by the Panama disease, a disease caused by the soil fungus Fusarium oxysporum, which rapidly spread around the world from Central America. It led to the collapse of the banana industry in Latin America, followed by a huge unemployment.

The 'Cavendish' was selected as the successor to the 'Gros Michel': not as tasty, a shorter shelf life and more vulnerable during transport, but resistant to Panama disease. Sadly though, the party lasted only a few decades, because the 'Cavendish' succumbed to a new, mutated variant of the Panama disease.
[Wild banana with its pea-sized seeds]
But 'Cavendish' is also hit hard by Black Sigatoka, a fungal disease caused by Mycosphaerella fijiensis, which emerged on the Fiji Islands and spread rapidly to the other growing areas The not so environmentally friendly solution was excessive spraying of the banana plantations with poison.

But Dutch scientists came to the rescue of the beleaguered banana: Gert Kema, a researcher at the University of Wageningen is trying to build resistance into banana varieties. His promising discovery is that a resistance gene in tomato recognizes the fungus that causes black Sigatoka in banana. That gene is now being incorporated into the banana plant.

The tomato is thus a possible saviour for the banana.

More info can be read here.

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