BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: Science/Nature  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 11:28 GMT
Bananas could split for good
Banana
A treat for some, a staple for others
Edible bananas may disappear within a decade if urgent action is not taken to develop new varieties resistant to blight.

A Belgian scientist leading research into the fruit loved by millions, and a staple for much of the world's poor, has warned that diseases and pests are steadily encroaching upon crops.

One thing we can be sure of is that the Sigatoka won't lose in this battle

Emile Frison
plant pathologist
The problem is that the banana we eat is a seedless, sterile article which could slip the way of its predecessor which was wiped out by blight half a century ago.

But Dr Emile Frison, who heads the French-based International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP), says the biotechnology and genetic manipulation it might take to save the fruit could put off consumers with GM concerns.

The Cavendish banana now being eaten across the globe lacks genetic diversity, he argues in an article in New Scientist magazine, and its survival is threatened by:

  • Panama disease, caused by a soil fungus, which wiped out the Gros Michel variety in the 1950s

  • Black sigatoka, another fungal disease which has reached global epidemic proportions

  • Pests invading plantations and farms in central America, Africa and Asia alike.

New Scientist compared the current threat to bananas to the potato blight which caused the devastating Irish famine of the 1840s.

GM fears

Fungicides are proving increasingly ineffective against the diseases, and black sigatoka especially.

Favoured fruit
Bananas being sorted in Jamaica
First edible bananas date back 10,000 years to South-East Asia
Half a billion people in Africa and Asia depend on them as a staple food
One hybrid developed with great difficulty turned out to taste more like an apple
"As soon as you bring in a new fungicide, they develop resistance," Dr Frison said.

"One thing we can be sure of is that the sigatoka won't lose in this battle."

A global consortium of scientists led by Dr Frison last year announced plans to sequence the genetic blueprint of the banana within five years.

They will focus on largely inedible wild bananas, which are full of hard seeds, since many of these are resistant to black sigatoka.

But the team's work is being hampered by a lack of support from the large producers, who fear that consumers will not accept a GM banana.

The Belgian scientist, who is based in Montpellier in southern France, pointed out that the research would be directed towards bananas eaten in Africa, where consumption is up to 50 times greater than that in a nation like Great Britain.

"Work on the banana genome will be concentrated on finding ways to improve the varieties on which Africans depend for their survival, rather than the one you and I buy off supermarket shelves," he said.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Tom Heap
"Bananas are the world's favourite fruit"
  Emile Frison, banana expert
"Extinction is a little bit exaggerated"
See also:

19 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
13 Aug 02 | Health
10 Aug 98 | Health
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Science/Nature stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes