Beware: Bananas are on the brink of extinction

As devastating tropical disease spreads across crops worldwide, researchers warn that the popular fruit could soon go off tables.

A new study now finds that bananas are facing potential extinction. Researchers have cautioned about the imminent danger faced by the fruit, as a deadly tropical disease sweeps across crops worldwide.

Known as Panama disease, or Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, the fungal infection has already spread throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and Central America.

The researchers say that should the infection reach South America, the Cavendish banana – the species most commonly sold and consumed worldwide – could face extinction.

Cavendish bananas are genetically identical to one another, which allows Panama disease to rapidly decimate entire harvest yields.

Salvation for banana crops could come in the form of a rare Madagascan tree, which grows an unpalatable, wild species of banana that is immune to Panama disease.

Plant biologists are rushing to create a hybrid of the two species of banana in the hope of creating a infection-resistant strain.

However, there are only five Madagascan banana trees in existence.

Richard Allen, senior conservation assessor at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, told the BBC that the rare disease-resistant species (Ensete perrieri) has certain traits which make it more durable than the Cavendish banana.

Primarily among them, the climate in Madagasca is believed to have played a role in creating a banana that has evolved to have an innate tolerance to drought and disease.

On an expedition to the island off the coast of Africa, scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens found only a handful of the plants remain in existence.

Unlike the Cavendish banana, which is what is grown commercially and eaten worldwide, the Madagascar banana produces seeds and is distasteful.

It is thought that combining the two strains of banana could produce a best-of-both scenario, with the hybrid being both edible and durable.

The Madagascar banana grows on the edge of forests, where it is vulnerable to the climate and damage from severe weather, as well as logging, forest fires and deforestation for farmland are all endangering the Madagascan plant.

It has now been listed on the official Red List of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

In the 1950s, Panama disease devastated a type of banana known as the 'Gros Michel' (often known as Big Mike).

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