If you like to have a banana with your morning breakfast, you might want to find a new treat to replace it. Scientists have been studying the genomes of three fungal diseases that are threatening current crops and they found something scary: the current fungus strains could wipe out the most popular banana crops within the next ten years.
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Before you get too worried, the good news is that now we might be able to fight it.
"In reality, the global banana industry could be wiped out in just five to 10 years by fast-advancing fungal diseases," a statement from study leaders from the University of California, Davis, explains.
The news comes after scientists found that another fungi, Panama disease, was not reacting to their attempts at a quarantine and therefore posed a serious threat. This research looked at Sigatoka, another disease caused by three types of fungi. Already, it has reduced banana yields by about 40% a year.
It took researchers from University of Calfornia, Davis, and the Netherlands to sequence the genome of three different Sigatoka strains: yellow Sigatoka (Pseudocercospora musae), eumusae leaf spot (Pseudocercospora eumusae), and black Sigatoka (Pseudocercospora figiensis).
What they found wasn't promising. Instead of just hijacking a banana's immune system, it now attacks their metabolism as well.
"We have demonstrated that two of the three most serious banana fungal diseases have become more virulent by increasing their ability to manipulate the banana’s metabolic pathways and make use of its nutrients," said one of the researchers, Ioannis Stergiopoulos. "This parallel change in metabolism of the pathogen and the host plant has been overlooked until now and may represent a 'molecular fingerprint' of the adaption process," he added. "It is really a wake-up call to the research community to look at similar mechanisms between pathogens and their plant hosts."
While many people likely think that bananas will be around forever, that definitely isn't the case. All commercial bananas are the Cavendish variety, which means they come from shoot cuttings instead of seeds.
"The Cavendish banana plants all originated from one plant and so as clones, they all have the same genotype - and that is a recipe for disaster," said Stergiopoulos.
Which means that one disease could kill all of them.
The team found that the best idea would be to develop a new banana cultivar that we could all eat. Still, doing this would take a lot of time and money.
Scientists are hoping to use the sequencing to modify the Cavendish bananas could be resistant to the three strains of the disease.