Panama Disease spreads (further)

Scientists[1] from Wageningen UR recently have demonstrated that Panama Disease – caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum cubense – has now also migrated to Jordan. This means that Panama Disease is becoming increasingly widespread and major banana-producing countries in Africa and Latin America are also under increased threat.

During the twentieth century, tens of thousands of hectares of banana plantations in Latin America were destroyed by Panama Disease. Banana plants died en masse and soils were contaminated for decades. The introduction of the resistant Cavendish banana variety saved the day and clones of the Cavendish banana are now cultivated around the world. Late last century, however, a new, highly aggressive strain of the fungus was discovered in Southeast Asia. Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is starting to have a huge effect on the Cavendish cultivar in Southeast Asia and there is currently no way to protect the banana.
A few years ago, suspicions arose that some banana plantations in Jordan could be infected with Panama Disease. These plants developed the same symptoms as banana plants infected with samples from Southeast Asia. Subsequent DNA tests showed that the Jordan strains were identical to TR4, thus demonstrating that TR4 has now spread beyond Southeast Asia.

Relatively few bananas are grown in Jordan – bananas are cultivated on around 1500 hectares – but already 80% of the plantations are infected. It is unclear by which route Panama Disease spread from Southeast Asia to Jordan. Gert Kema argues that it is only a question of time before TR4 reaches Africa, where bananas are an important part of the diet of millions of people.

[1] Garcia et al: First Report of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 associated with Panama Disease of banana outside Southeast Asia in Plant Disease - 2013

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