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Are Bananas Going Extinct?

Updated on March 11, 2014
Several banana varieties
Several banana varieties

Everyone's Favorite Fruit

While the banana may be the most widely grown and consumed fruit in the world, recent alarming reports have emerged that the banana is going extinct. What on earth will everyone do without ice cream sundaes and banana bread? All joking aside though, many countries rely on bananas as a staple food, even drying them and grinding them up to be used as flour. The impact of bananas going extinct could cause hunger and even starvation in many parts of the world. Just why are scientists so anxious about the imminent destruction of the banana, and is their concern worthwhile, or just a load of hot air?

Wild bananas are full of seeds.
Wild bananas are full of seeds.

The Origin of the Modern Banana

The lovely yellow bananas that grace supermarket shelves are the result of long years of human agricultural manipulation. Scientists think that banana cultivation may reach back to 5000 BCE, and began in New Guinea, Malaysia, and other tropical Southeast Asian locales. Certainly the natives had a reason to try to cultivate better bananas. Take a look at the picture to the right. Guess what that is...a wild banana! In its natural state bananas are filled with annoying seeds, making the fruit difficult to eat. Someone realized that there had to be a better way.

Getting Rid of the Seeds

In order to make the fruit more edible bananas were cultivated with smaller and smaller seeds. Now all you can see in your regular banana is the remnant of those seeds, which appear as teensy black specks in the fruit. However, in getting rid of the seeds cultivators took away the banana's ability to reproduce sexually. This means that when farmers want to grow new banana plants they must break off a corm (part of the root) to grow a new plant. So, essentially, all bananas are really just clones of the exact same plant.

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What does This Have to do With Extinction?

Well, as anyone who's ever learned about basic genetics knows, diversity is the spice of life, literally. The more diverse a species is the more resistant it is to disease and other adversity. Take humans for example. Some people have natural immunity to certain diseases (like my sister does to measles) and even if an outbreak happened some number (however small) of the population would survive to rebuild.

But, since bananas are all effectively the same plant, they have no immunity to certain diseases, which include Panama Disease (a soil fungus) and Black Sigatoka (a leaf fungus).

Farewell sweet Cavendish?
Farewell sweet Cavendish?

So Bananas ARE Going Extinct?

Well, not necessarily. (Gotcha). In this case what scientists are worried about is the extinction of a certain type of banana, namely the Cavendish. See, there are many banana varieties, ranging from yellow to red, small to large. However, the banana we know as bananais the Cavendish. Its long, bright yellow presence is a constant in our supermarkets and our homes. Losing the Cavendish to say, a red banana, would just be so weird that some people might not even consider them the same fruit. But, losing a banana type is not without precedence. Prior to the 1960s the main banana variety was the "Gros Michel", but it too succumbed to disease. It is entirely likely that our children may never know bananas in the form that we do. To them a yellow banana may just be plain weird. But we've lost our bananas before, and still made it out the other side intact. We can do so again.


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    • profile image

      Elalicious 8 years ago

      Gach! That'd kill me, I just love bananas. My friend told me that they may be going extinct and told me too look it up.

    • CennyWenny profile image

      CennyWenny 8 years ago from Washington

      Sweetie- Actually, under normal, not induced ripening (which happens to most commericial bananas) they are ripe when they turn brown!

      However, Like Enelle I like 'em green:)

      Jewels: I agree, though I might balk at "Rocky Mountain Oysters"...:)

      Thanks for stopping by RedElf!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Fun Hub - great info! I'll be back to read more...

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 8 years ago from Australia

      Love a good firm banana. What a shame if can no longer peel a Cavendish. I'll just have to go for a red one next, try anything once.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      I can't eat them like that...I'm at the other end of the scale, eating them just as the ripen from green to yellow - I'll send you all the ones that, to me, are over ripe LOL

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I love bananas, but have to eat them when overly ripe and brown on the skins. People would have panic attacks and say the bananas are rotten at that point, but that is not true.

    • CennyWenny profile image

      CennyWenny 8 years ago from Washington

      Tony-Dont' worry, they'll still be around, just a little different is all:)

    • tony0724 profile image

      tony0724 8 years ago from san diego calif

      What a bummer I love banannas !

    • CennyWenny profile image

      CennyWenny 8 years ago from Washington

      Gypsy Willow- Ok, I have to admit I've never had a small banana! But I really want to try what they call an "ice cream" banana, which is blue and silver and tastes like ice cream, supposedly.

      Seopositions-Thanks for stopping by!

    • seopositions profile image

      seopositions 8 years ago from Victoria Texas

      Interesting view on bananas! haha! I love it!

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I like the tiny ones best, far more flavor. interesting to see what happens when you don't have sex! Obvious really!

    • CennyWenny profile image

      CennyWenny 8 years ago from Washington

      Hehe:) I got interested in the subject after a friend insisted they were going extinct. Poor things, no sex in a couple thousand years...

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 8 years ago from Hungary

      Finally! Some light shining at the end of the corridor...

      O Lord, deliver us from bananas!