Home Science Fungal disease could wipe bananas out in next 10 years

Fungal disease could wipe bananas out in next 10 years

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Banana is considered to be one of the healthiest and most energetic
fruits out there. From children to grandpas, it is liked by men and
women of every age. It is a no brainer staple grocery item to buy when
shopping for groceries; but this love story between us and the banana
might be coming to an abrupt and unfortunate ending. An evolving fungal
disease has been spreading like wildfire is now threatening to wipe out
the fruit within the next decade.
Researchers at University of California, Davis (UC Davis) have been
warning about this impending doom for quite some time, and since then
they have successfully planned out the genomes of the fungi to determine
how it attacks its hosts in a bid to save the fruit from extinction.
The reason why the fungal disease called Sigatoka is really getting a
foothold is the kind of reproduction done by the banana plant. They
usually consist of Cavendish type, which employs vegetative
reproduction. 
Vegetative reproduction – as opposed to asexual
reproduction – proceeds by cutting of the plant’s shoots and replanting
them rather than growing from different seeds. This makes all the
Cavendish bananas essentially “clones” of one plant having the same
genotype, thus making all of them susceptible to the disease.
This
fungal disease is comprised of three strains called yellow Sigatoka,
black Sigatoka and eumusae leaf spot. The farmers are required to apply
the expensive and environmentally dangerous fungicide to their crops 50
times a year in order to stop the fungus, which makes this a very
hazardous, costly and labor intensive practice.

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The spread of this fungus has been such that out of the 120 banana
producing countries churning up about 100 million tons of bananas per
annum, about 40 percent is spoiled; costing millions of dollars to the
banana industry. This costly practice weighs in about 30 to 35 percent
towards the banana production cost. And since most of the farmers can’t
afford this kind of money, they have to settle on growing bananas of
lesser quality bringing them lesser income.
Previously another
popular species called the Gros Michel was wiped out by a similar fungus
called Panama disease, giving rise to the Cavendish variety in the
second half of the 20th century. Researchers firstly found the
cure of yellow Sigatoka, and after that sequenced for the other two
diseases. They concluded from their observational results that the fungi
not only shuts down the host plant’s immune system, but releases
enzymes that break down the cell walls and feeds on the sugars and
carbohydrates of the plant.
This conclusion is a big deal as the
team hopes this will help them in reaching a solution that is less
costly and more permanent. The research has been published in PLOS Genetics.

Source:  University of California

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