A potent fungus is killing off banana plants and could eventually wipe out much of the fruit around the world, according to a new study. Research published in PLOS Pathogens reveals that a disease strain called Tropical Race 4 has affected banana crops in southeast Asia for decades and in recent years has expanded to the Middle East. Eventually the disease is expected to hit Latin America, where the majority of the world’s bananas are grown.
This isn’t the first time a type of banana has faced being killed off. TR4 is a mutation of an earlier pathogen called Panama Disease, which effectively wiped out a sweeter banana type called Gros Michel in the mid-20th century. The bananas currently under threat, known as Cavendish, eventually replaced the Gros Michel as the dominant version of the fruit. But because the Cavendish are largely clones of each other, they’re extremely susceptible to TR4, with little variation among them that would allow some to defend themselves.
The researchers recommend a host of “drastic strategy changes” to ensure bananas survive into the future, including better containment of infected bananas, improved treatment of contaminated soil and a more concerted global effort to cultivate new banana types.