banana is the world’s most popular fruit crop, with over 100m metric
tons produced annually in over 130 tropical and subtropical countries.
Edible bananas are the result of a genetic accident in nature that
created the seedless fruit we enjoy today. Virtually all the bananas
sold across the western world belong to the so-called Cavendish subgroup
of the species and are genetically nearly identical. These bananas are
sterile and dependent on propagation via cloning, either by using
suckers and cuttings taken from the underground stem or through modern
The familiar bright yellow Cavendish banana is ubiquitous in supermarkets and fruit bowls, but it is in imminent danger. The vast worldwide monoculture of genetically identical plants leaves the Cavendish intensely vulnerable to disease outbreaks. Fungal diseases severely devastated the banana industry once in history and it could soon happen again if we do not resolve the cause of these problems. Plant scientists, including us, are working out the genetics of wild banana varieties and banana pathogens as we try to prevent a Cavendish crash.
Ultimately we need to increase the pool of genetic diversity in cultivated bananas.’
Photograph: Clive Gee/PA