Plant pathologists unpeel rumors of banana extinction

Will bananas really become extinct within the next decade? Not likely says a plant pathologist with the American Phytopathological Society (APS). The plant pathologist is speaking out in response to an article that recently appeared in New Scientist depicting possible extinction due to the impact of two diseases, Black Sigatoka and Panama disease, on the global production of bananas. “Diseases are, and will remain, major constraints to both export and subsistence production of banana, and there is no doubt that Black Sigatoka and Panama disease constitute the most important threats,” said Randy C. Ploetz, Professor at the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center. “However, it is unlikely that these problems will cause production to decrease greatly in the next decade, let alone that the crop will become extinct,” said Ploetz.

From the American Phytopathological Society
:
Plant pathologists unpeel rumors of banana extinction

St. Paul, MN (February 14, 2003) Will bananas really become extinct within the next decade? Not likely says a plant pathologist with the American Phytopathological Society (APS).

The plant pathologist is speaking out in response to an article that recently appeared in New Scientist depicting possible extinction due to the impact of two diseases, Black Sigatoka and Panama disease, on the global production of bananas.

“Diseases are, and will remain, major constraints to both export and subsistence production of banana, and there is no doubt that Black Sigatoka and Panama disease constitute the most important threats,” said Randy C. Ploetz, Professor at the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center. “However, it is unlikely that these problems will cause production to decrease greatly in the next decade, let alone that the crop will become extinct,” said Ploetz.

According to Ploetz, Black Sigatoka affects diverse bananas used in subsistence agriculture, as well as the Cavendish cultivars that are used in export production. It is a serious foliar disease, but does not kill plants and is well controlled in export plantations with fungicides. In contrast, Panama disease is soil-borne and fatal. A new variant of the pathogen, tropical race 4, affects Cavendish cultivars in Southeast Asia and, thus, has raised concerns in the export trades.

The spread of tropical race 4 to the Americas would require either infected banana suckers or infested soil to be imported from Asia, both of which are strictly forbidden in the export-producing countries, said Ploetz. “If tropical race 4 did spread to the Western Hemisphere, damage would be restricted by the containment and eradication measures that would follow and the fact that the export trades rely on pathogen-free, tissue cultured plants to establish plantations,” he said.

Ploetz said development of new hybrid bananas, as well as those produced via genetic transformation, must continue in order to supply producers with productive cultivars that resist important diseases, nematodes and insects.


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2 thoughts on “Plant pathologists unpeel rumors of banana extinction”

  1. P.S. The “control” of Sigatoka mentioned by Randy Ploetz in the >250,00 ha of bananas in Ecuador and in most commercial banana producing regions of the tropics, requires in most cases weekly aerial applications of highly toxic cocteles of fungicides with many components from Category 2 of the USA mammal toxicity classificaction.

  2. Banana “diseases”, like the plethora of similar disorders of amost all tropical perennial crops, are encouraged by the unhealthy nature of the plants when grown in modern high yielding commercial plantations. This Musa species was never meant by nature to suffer under such conditions.Like all forms of life, when the banana plant is unhealty it is more susceptible to disease, and conversely when the plant is healthy it has a greater capacity to resist the invasion of crtical tissues by fungal or bacterial microrganisms. One of the nutritional factors most critical is the level of calcium in the tissues affected. Unfortunatley most “disease” research is carried out almost universally by plant pathologists who seem to have mostly forgotten what they may have been taught in their university studies on crop physiology and nutrition. The high price we pay for the ongoing extreme disciplinary specialization.suggests we need more banana GPs with a broader and deeper knowledge of the related sciences..

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