Friday, April 20, 2012

Yes, We Have Bananas!

Those of you who read here on a regular basis know I have always been against GMO's,  but I was shocked to learn that for one fruit, at least, genetic modification might be beneficial! The humble banana is so prone to disease that it's simple existence is threatened, according to  Organic Gardening, Oct/Nov 2010
Did you know bananas are seedless? Because of this, the plants must be reproduced vegetatively through offsets. While this makes for a higher success rate and more consistent fruit, it also means that for the banana, the lab is a necessity. According to experts, there is a fungus hot on the trail of all banana-life everywhere, and it's apparently incurable. The dreaded killer is a new strain of fusarium wilt known as "Panama Disease" or "Race 4", by attacking roots. So  far it is resistant to fungicides. An Australian biologist, James Dale, has devoted his attention to developing a lab-bred variety of the fruit that is immune to the fungus. He's still working on the process, and running into a great deal of resistance to field-testing genetically modified bananas. There are over 300 different varieties of banana, but the most popular is "Cavendish". In the 1960's another variety, the "Gros Michel" was the most popular, but another strain of fusarium wilt wiped it out.

A Belgian scientist, Rony Swennen has spent years working in Africa  to develop disease-resistant fruit utilizing conventional hybridizing methods. So far, he's been unsuccessful, but his first genetically modified  bananas were promising. But he's been blocked by going further in field trials. Uganda is the world's most dependent country, and while officials there have expressed an interest, the field trials have yet to happen in fungus-prone areas.

Now we can see where in this case, genetic modification might save one of our most popular fruits. At least a few varieties. But with over 300 to choose from, the celebrated banana will be around for a long time, so don't fret about that hand of bananas on your counter.
What's a hand, you ask? A bunch of bananas is a hand while a single fruit is called a finger.

Now you know.


Jacquelineand.... said...

Handy to know these terms....

Liz said...

Hi Carolyn, I'm glad to see you posting this about bananas. I'm as opposed to GMO's as anyone, but the reasons and the mechanics were different for bananas. And the inserted gene was not from a completely difference species of organism. Sometimes technology actually is our friend, lol.