Early in 2019, the government of Columbia announced that a banana-killing fungus called TR4 was attacking entire banana crops. The South American region is home to many of the bananas we eat today, but if you look at bananas in your local grocery market, you might notice something interesting: there isn’t a lot of variety in the bananas we eat. In regions like Asia, there are multiple varieties of bananas. In fact, there are more than a thousand varieties of bananas across the world. The most commercial banana eaten in the United States is called the Cavendish banana. They grow quickly, yield a lot more bananas per tree, and are resilient against storms. No wonder there are millions of these bananas grown and sold in the world.
So why is this news about the TR4 fungus in Columbia important to US consumers? Because the Cavendish banana is susceptible to the deadly fungus. Could that mean that US markets will no longer carry bananas? Not quite yet. Scientists are working to find a cure against the TR4 fungus, and other efforts involve changing the genes in bananas to better protect them from the fungus. Yet another defense is to increase the types of bananas produced and consumed; since each variety of banana is genetically different, perhaps the fungus that attacks one type of banana won’t attack another type? Let’s hope at least some of these efforts work!
The next time you’re at the grocery store, check out which fruits and vegetables have the most variety. Which ones don’t?