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Cavendish Bananas


DonRocks
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Something similar to this is happening right now to bananas.  The world banana crop is mostly a single cloned variety, the Cavendish, which is being attacked by a new version of the Panama disease that wiped out the previous banana type, the Gros Michel (known affectionately in the business as the Big Mike), in the 50's.  The disease (Panama TR4) is certainly going to wipe out the Cavendish eventually, so the race is now on between the geneticists and the disease to see if the industry will be saved.  In a few years we'll know if we still have easy access to the big inexpensive bananas we are all accustomed to, or whether there will only be a few varieties of very expensive and small types available on the market.  The latter are often quite tasty, but very difficult to cultivate and transport, certainly on anything resembling a large scale.

When I was in Hawaii, I had the best bananas I've ever eaten - they were about half the size of the ones you normally see around here, very soft, and very sweet. Are these what you're referring to at the end of your post?

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When I was in Hawaii, I had the best bananas I've ever eaten - they were about half the size of the ones you normally see around here, very soft, and very sweet. Are these what you're referring to at the end of your post? 

Yeah, but there are many varieties, widely available.  Look around any latino or asian market; they'll likely have several types, all small, some red, some yellow, and so on.

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Yeah, but there are many varieties, widely available.  Look around any latino or asian market; they'll likely have several types, all small, some red, some yellow, and so on.

Are any of these small varieties Cavendish bananas, or are they all something else?

Heirloom bananas - who knew?

I'd also like to add that these big, inexpensive bananas that we have access to have zero taste, in my opinion - that's why I rarely buy them - I see a strong parallel here between this and other types of mass-produced foods.

One more question: Is the Gros Michel "DONE done," or have they frozen a seed somewhere? With DNA, it ain't over 'til it's OVER.

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There are hundreds of varieties, some say thousands, including both the plantain types (for cooking) and the sweet types (that we commonly refer to a "bananas.")   "Cavendish" mostly refers to the cultivar that you find in every grocery store and a few of its cousins.

Here is the Wikipedia article.  Here are some images.   Yes, these are what you might refer to as "heirloom" bananas.

BTW, part of the problem with developing resistant banana types is that they are mostly triploids, meaning instead of having the usual two chromosomes per set (the famous double helix) they have three, and thus are sterile (seedless), and can't be propagated sexually.  This is why the Panama TR4 thing is so threatening -- developing new and resistant strains is a slow process when you can't use sexual reproduction, which gives the disease an advantage.  But today we have genetic engineering to come to the rescue, especially CRISPR-Cas9 to speed things up, so maybe the scientists will be able to solve the problem in time.  Of course the result is going to be GMO bananas, so folks will need to decide how they want to think about that.

Bananas also come in diploids (2) and tetraploids (4).  Polyploidism (more than two chromosomes per set) is more common than one might realize -- besides bananas, think seedless watermelons, most wheat, some fish, some strawberries, and many other organisms, though most can reproduce sexually.  Chromosome sets can go up at least as high as 12 (dodecaploids). Enough genetics for today.

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I would be remiss if I failed to note that not only is there a banana problem, but the same thing is happening with Florida oranges and threatens all citrus everywhere, including of course naval oranges.  In fact I may have conflated the banana issue with the Florida citrus issue in my mind earlier, but basically the same thing is going on with both.  With citrus the problem is what is called citrus greening or huanglongbing.  It is a fungus carried by the Asian citrus psyllid, a bug.  It has already reduced Florida's orange crop to a shadow of what it once was and will wipe it out soon if an effective solution isn't found.  Same will happen to all citrus eventually, heirloom or mass produced.  Here is a fairly good article.  Bottom line is that while there may be some "old-time" types of solutions, which particularly the Brazilians with their huge plantations have been able to employ, genetic engineering is probably the only way in the end to save the day.  To the extent that is true, once again we can look forward to an exclusively GMO future for a major food type, in this case oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and so on.

I'd also like to add that these big, inexpensive bananas that we have access to have zero taste, in my opinion - that's why I rarely buy them - I see a strong parallel here between this and other types of mass-produced foods.

One more question: Is the Gros Michel "DONE done," or have they frozen a seed somewhere? With DNA, it ain't over 'til it's OVER.

Taste isn't as good as the older types, but IMO even the Cavendish tastes OK if you eat it when it's at its flavor peak, which most people don't (they eat it way too soon -- you should wait until until a day or two after those little black spots appear, and NEVER REFRIGERATE A BANANA).

And yes AFAIK Big Mike is for all practical purposes a goner -- anyway, he wasn't much different from the Cavendish, just another big banana that could be grown and shipped economically, maybe a little sweeter it is said.

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Taste isn't as good as the older types, but IMO even the Cavendish tastes OK if you eat it when it's at its flavor peak, which most people don't (they eat it way too soon -- you should wait until until a day or two after those little black spots appear, and NEVER REFRIGERATE A BANANA).

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