A threat to bananas

A threat to bananas

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

Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and do the exercises.


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.

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Submitted by COUTCHER on Sun, 28/04/2024 - 17:49


This is very important issue for mankind.

It's obvious that the solution of using genetic to modify the Cavendish is temporary but here is my concern, what's the true purpose of all that? The sake of money or feeding humans with the human's wellbeing at the center of those research? 

Therefore, we should make sure genetic modifying techniques or cloning are ethically approved.

Submitted by csantiducey on Sat, 30/12/2023 - 21:10


I have never been a pro GMO person, cause I believe modifying nature's biological processes wont bring positive results at the long term. Instead, I think a better solution would be the development and implementation of traditional methods in different weather conditions. Also, it is relevant to be conscious of the natural limitations a banana crop land can have, in terms of producing bananas.

Submitted by jmajo on Tue, 21/11/2023 - 13:28


I think quite the same as the author, because if the same monocultures methods are used to grow the new genetically modifying crops, probably the same problems will appear in the short term, so In my opinion they should change the way they grow the crops and not use monocultures anymore to grow them.

Submitted by Vitaliy128 on Sun, 29/10/2023 - 09:22


From my point of view, implementing GMOs in our lives is incredibly beneficial for all people due to the rapid pollution of the environment. And one day, GMO food will save us from famine, when the environment will be extremely polluted.

Submitted by betelf on Wed, 25/10/2023 - 12:12


I think it's very impressive, and it's good to see human development in various fields. However, it's also important to maintain a balance and continue to prioritize a healthy environment.

Submitted by mikepa22 on Tue, 12/09/2023 - 20:28


The thing with genetical modification and overall with cloning techniques is that reduce genetical diversity of the crops, making them more susceptible to be affected by the same strain of plague. As you can see, the solution for Tr-4 has been taking genes from resistans plants, another point to promote less strict cloning techniques and new approaches. In addition, I must acknowledge that we created the banana fruit as we know it nowadays, so, biotechnological works and genetic engeeniring are nothing but the evolution of the techniques humankind used to perform artificial selection of crops in early history

Submitted by Artyev on Tue, 23/05/2023 - 17:26


I don't have any solution, because, honestly, I'm not interested in botanic, so, I have only one requst: don't grow bad and unheathly bananas, which can damage consumers, who eat them(like me).

Submitted by modernapoletto on Tue, 25/04/2023 - 20:10


great article.

you've got to be greater than the nature itself in order to come up with permanent solutions. we're weaker, therefore we'll be beaten forever.

Submitted by Nana Adwoa Owusu on Sat, 25/02/2023 - 21:02


Even though genetically modifying the Cavendish banana seems to be a promising solution to the end of the attacks of the strange diseases such as TR-4, it will still be a short-term answer to the situation at hand.

In my opinion, I think recreating a new plant will not contribute to the permanent solution as it is inevitable. However, finding the root of the cause and eliminating it will be a better option.

Evidently, it can be seen from the paragraph that monoculture growing conditions contribute to the surfacing of these diseases. So for example, instead of cloning the plants, change of cultivation might help.

Submitted by Wild on Fri, 24/02/2023 - 10:57


This is an interesting reading passage.