Favourite Cavendish banana variety under threat

From a single plant grown in Chatsworth House, a stately home in Derbyshire in the English Midlands in the 1830s, it has spread to become the ubiquitous variety of banana on our supermarket shelves.

But now the Cavendish banana is facing extinction from a deadly fungus - and may have to be genetically engineered into a new variant if the popular fruit is not to be wiped out altogether, experts say.

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The vast majority of bananas consumed in the West are thought to be descended from one plant imported to England from Mauritius in 1830 and grown in the hothouse at Chatsworth House in the Peak District.

Missionaries later exported the Cavendish banana to Samoa, the Pacific and the Canary Islands, starting new banana industries.

However, the Cavendish only became the most popular type of banana after the previously dominant Gros Michel, which was said to be tastier, was virtually wiped out by a deadly fungus known as "Panama disease" or "banana wilt" in the 1950s. Farmers took up growing the Cavendish, which was immune to the fungus, in its place.

A new strain of the fungal disease, which affects the Cavendish, has developed and spread in recent years, threatening to wipe out the bananas we eat.


It has already spread across South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australia and is scientists have said it is inevitable that sooner or later it will reach the Americas where most of the Cavendish crops are grown.

This time, scientists say, there is no immune variant waiting in the wings to replace the Cavendish, meaning genetic engineering is likely to be required to save the banana.

Dr Gert Kema, of the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, told the BBC: "We have nothing to replace the Cavendish right now."

He said: "To carry on growing the same genetic banana is stupid. It is necessary that we improve the Cavendish through genetic engineering but parallel to that we must be finding genetic diversity in our breeding programmes."

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