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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.



Language level

Advanced: C1


I agree with the articles because of the human errors, the fungus can inevitably be developed somehow. In my opinion, new genetic Cavendish banana can dominate the market for awhile, then people will try to clone it and another new fungus strain attacks it again. Who knows.

To answer the question honestly you have to be a specialist in this field otherwise your answer, especially when it's disagreement, looks like a medieval superstition. Telling the truth, I know nothing about genetic modification so can't be sure what's right or wrong. But, I definitely know, that the population of our planet constantly grows and we badly need some new methods to make our agriculture more effective. On the other point, we couldn't avoid starvation, and let me remind everybody - some people starving to death nowadays too. It's horrible and if genetically modified plants are the answer - well, that means we'll go for it. Anyway, it's better than death, I think.

I think that genetic modification could be dangerous to farmland and human health.

That must be the last solution, I do not completely agree about modifying plants genetically but if it's necessary and healthy I would like to see and taste how it works, and I think too there are more fruits that have been modified and even we don't notice.

I think it is good if be resistant against funguses and doesn't be harmful to human's health.

In my opinion the problem is the overproduction and monoculture. Maybe changing our food culture, diversifying crops and promoting ecological farming would help.

Nowadays, thanks to technology and advanced science; scientists have gone to modifying genes to avoid a lot of defects in plants, animals, and even humans (they are working on it lol). In our situation, we are talking about genetically modifying a certain species of banana (the cavendish). I personally think this modern way of keeping bananas immortal to diseases is actually efficient. Despite it might have its downsides, like the expense of the process, and the chances of it to be harmful to some people. But of course, scientists have a better understanding of this situation than most of us.

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.