Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas

In "The Botany of Desire," Michael Pollan points out that most crop plants (like apples) are produced asexually, producing clones. This ensures that all of the new plants produced will have the same exact traits of the original plant. Unfortunately, the resulting "monoculture" has no genetic variability, and can thus not respond to new pests and diseases through natural selection. An example of the perils of monocultured crops is provided by the Cavendish banana, which is virtually the only kind of banana sold in the United States today. The Cavendish banana was cultivated by a previous kind of banana, which was wiped out by a fungus infection that causes what is called Panama Disease. Alas, as this article points out, Panama Disease is back, and is currently spreading through Cavendish plantations in a variety of parts of the world. Read about the possibility that we won't be able to enjoy this exotic tropical fruit in the relatively near future, and about the interesting history that has made bananas such a cheap and common part of our diet.

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