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A threat to bananas

Read a text about a fungus threatening bananas to practise and improve your reading skills.

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Reading text

In the 1950s, Central American commercial banana growers were facing the death of their most lucrative product, the Gros Michel banana, known as Big Mike. And now it’s happening again to Big Mike’s successor – the Cavendish.

With its easily transported, thick-skinned and sweet-tasting fruit, the Gros Michel banana plant dominated the plantations of Central America. United Fruit, the main grower and exporter in South America at the time, mass-produced its bananas in the most efficient way possible: it cloned shoots from the stems of plants instead of growing plants from seeds, and cultivated them in densely packed fields.

Unfortunately, these conditions are also perfect for the spread of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, which attacks the plant’s roots and prevents it from transporting water to the stem and leaves. The TR-1 strain of the fungus was resistant to crop sprays and travelled around on boots or the tyres of trucks, slowly infecting plantations across the region. In an attempt to escape the fungus, farmers abandoned infected fields, flooded them and then replanted crops somewhere else, often cutting down rainforest to do so.

Their efforts failed. So, instead, they searched for a variety of banana that the fungus didn’t affect. They found the Cavendish, as it was called, in the greenhouse of a British duke. It wasn’t as well suited to shipping as the Gros Michel, but its bananas tasted good enough to keep consumers happy. Most importantly, TR-1 didn’t seem to affect it. In a few years, United Fruit had saved itself from bankruptcy by filling its plantations with thousands of the new plants, copying the same monoculture growing conditions Gros Michel had thrived in.

While the operation was a huge success for the Latin American industry, the Cavendish banana itself is far from safe. In 2014, South East Asia, another major banana producer, exported four million tons of Cavendish bananas. But, in 2015, its exports had dropped by 46 per cent thanks to a combination of another strain of the fungus, TR-4, and bad weather.

Growing practices in South East Asia haven’t helped matters. Growers can’t always afford the expensive lab-based methods to clone plants from shoots without spreading the disease. Also, they often aren’t strict enough about cleaning farm equipment and quarantining infected fields. As a result, the fungus has spread to Australia, the Middle East and Mozambique – and Latin America, heavily dependent on its monoculture Cavendish crops, could easily be next.

Racing against the inevitable, scientists are working on solving the problem by genetically modifying the Cavendish with genes from TR-4-resistant banana species. Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology have successfully grown two kinds of modified plant which have remained resistant for three years so far. But some experts think this is just a sophisticated version of the same temporary solution the original Cavendish provided. If the new bananas are planted in the same monocultures as the Cavendish and the Gros Michel before it, the risk is that another strain of the disease may rise up to threaten the modified plants too.

Debate

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Comments

genetically modified any fruits can be good for a while but I think this problem should be solved by considering every parameter like biosecurity, developing spry against these fungus diseases and etc.
I'm reading one article right now that is about a cake made by Neem plant that can overcome this problem by killing Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, in banana plantation titled " Evaluation of fungicides and oil cakes for the management of Panama wilt caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (FOC) in banana".
also, biosecurity is very important as mentioned in the reading text. for example, applying some disinfectant at the arrival of the plantation for truck and worker

It is a double-edged sword, as It could have both positive and negative effects, they might obtain good crops which are resistant to fungus and other harmful organisms that parasite the bananas but at the same time these healthy good tasting bananas might be unhealthy and cause some serious health problems. With good tests and reliable vigilance genetic engineering is a good option.

I believe modifying crops is part of a natural role humans have with their environment, however I support a less aggressive approach which can be less suited for economical results. In the ancient times of Mexicas, there were people who found that fungus of the corn crops were edible. Not only did they end up with a far more nutritious food but they stopped fighting with the natural course. Companies may have only monetary goals but if we could try to observe what nature does by itself, the results obtained could be rather than quick, efficient.

it is obvious that in our attempt to improve the crops in general, we were playing to be gods of nature when in fact we do not know enough. we are not aware about the consequences in the long term. Not everything should be about money and benefits. We should learn more about genetically modifying products.

My thought on this is that since the solution is on temporary base which is short time, the producer should be cautious.

Could you please make these capitalized sentences simple?

State promises to provide more up-to-date engines, planes, and helicopters to fight fires have been fulfilled. FIREFIGHTERS’ UNIONS THAT IN THE PAST COMPLAINED OF DILAPIDATED EQUIPMENT, OLD FIRE ENGINES, AND INSUFFICIENT BLUEPRINTS FOR FIRE SAFETY ARE NOW PRAISING THE STATE'S COMMITMENT, NOTING THAT FUNDING FOR FIREFIGHTING HAS INCREASED, DESPITE HUGE CUTS IN MANY OTHER PROGRAMS. ‘WE ARE PLEASED THAT THE CURRENT STATE ADMINISTRATION HAS BEEN VERY PROACTIVE IN ITS SUPPORT OF US, AND [HAS] COME THROUGH WITH BUDGETARY SUPPORT OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS WE HAVE LONG SOUGHT,' says Mr. McHale of the firefighters’ union.

Hello amit_ck

The firefighters are happy with the government now because many improvements have been made: they have newer equipment, better building plans and in general more money.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I think this is a short term solution. Over time the crops will be attacked by another strain of fungus and scientists will have to genetically modify other types of banana plants.
This mass produced system could be the problem but could be prevented by reducing and controlling more efficiently the crops of banana plants.

hi, a question:
how would you reduce and control crops?

The engineering of modifying plants genetically dates many years ago, since it's a problems that both scientists and farmers have faced throughout the history, resulting in a convincing way to settle the problem. Nevertheless, there is a downside that we can't dismiss that lies in the fact that viruses tend to evolve steadily as they are counteracted by either new generations of plants or vaccines , becoming stronger and more resistant, which ultimately, is highly counterproductive for the entire industry.

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