Imagining the Future of the Banana

Imagining the Future of the Banana

Bananas are under attack. To keep eating them, you’ll need to keep an open mind.


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Biology, Ecology, Health, Conservation

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Banana splits. Banana bread. Plain old bananas. The curved yellow fruit is a popular food. Now, though, bananas we love may be in danger from Panama Disease. It is a fungus that has been killing banana trees. Banana growers are scrambling to figure out what to do.

Bananas are different than most other fruits. There are hundreds of types of bananas, but many farmers grow just one kind. It's a large, sweet banana called the Cavendish. It's the one we see in supermarkets. All Cavendish bananas are clones. Clones all have the same genes. Genes are inside every plant and animal. They act like plans telling how something should grow.

A Serious Problem Around The World

Since Cavendish banana trees are clones, that means they all have the same immune system. This system helps living things fight off sickness. But if all the bananas are the same, there can be serious problems. A disease that can kill one banana tree can kill them all.

Panama Disease has already wiped out banana trees in Asia. It has hit Africa and Europe, too. South America is now the one continent where Cavendish bananas can grow. (Bananas do not grow well in most parts of North America.)

So far, the disease has not reached South America. Experts, though, fear it will soon get there. Keeping a plant disease from spreading is very hard.

Banana Growers Considering Their Options

Banana growers are working on three options. First, scientists could change the genes in Cavendish bananas. It is possible to edit genes. Their immune system could be made stronger. Then the banana trees could fight off Panama Disease.

Another possibility is to attack Panama Disease. Scientists might be able to change the genes of the fungus. Then the disease might not be so deadly for bananas.

The third option? Find and grow a new type of banana. There are many different kinds of bananas. Cavendish, though, has been America's favorite for a long time. Finding a new one that people like is the tricky part.

New Types Of Bananas Available

Some supermarkets are already introducing new types of bananas. There are red and green ones. There are bananas the size of a finger. Plantains are a bigger type of banana. They are not as sweet and soft. Often, they are cooked before they are eaten.

People should enjoy Cavendish bananas while they can. Soon, they might be gone. People may have to make banana splits with something new.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Daniel Stone
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
André Gabrielli, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

December 21, 2023

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