Bananas could be in a bunch of trouble
Bananas are a favorite fruit for many people and a dietary staple for many others. Dried bananas are mixed with other fruits and nuts as a nutritional snack, they often are sliced on top of cereal, and many people enjoy them as an afternoon snack. Bananas provide essential vitamins and minerals and studies link bananas to stroke prevention and a longer, healthier life.
Edible bananas are grown in Central America, Africa, and Asia. They are a seedless, sterile fruit that some scientists believe could disappear from Earth in as early as ten years. Why? They lack genetic diversity. Pests and disease are taking their toll on the popular food and past experience with other varieties of bananas shows that the Cavendish banana, currently the banana eaten by most people, could succumb to a similar fate.
One particular fungus, black sigatoka, that attacks bananas has been treated with fungicides, but has developed a resistance to each one. Panama disease, caused by a soil fungus almost completely destroyed the Gros Michel banana in the 1950s and also is prevalent in the current variety of bananas.
What can be done to save Cavendish bananas from extinction? Dr. Emile Frison, the head of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain in France, says biotechnology and genetic manipulation may give bananas a fighting chance.
A growing number of foods are being produced using genetic engineering, including corn and soybeans in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration has set guidelines for introducing genetically altered food crops into the U.S. However, many people are skeptical about messing with nature and banana suppliers fear that a genetically manipulated banana would be rejected by consumers. But, plans are still underway to sequence the genetic blueprint of the banana within five years. With modern biotechnology, scientists could then insert one, two, or even three single genes into the plant to give it more advantageous characteristics to resist fungal and other diseases.
Research the history of bananas – where they are grown, how they are harvested, and past disease that destroyed former varieties of bananas. Write a paper summarizing these issues and include whether you think genetic manipulation is the answer to the problem.