Scientists are racing to save bananas from a tropical disease that is threatening crops across the world.
According to Fox News, the Panama disease, a type of fungal infection that invades the soil, is currently spreading throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East. If it makes its way to South America — the biggest supplier of a type of commercially grown banana known as Cavendish — scientists fear it could spell the end for the tasty fruit.
But hope lies deep in the jungles of Madagascar, where a wild banana lives that may be able to save the species.
The Madagascan banana, an inedible fruit with large seeds in the middle of it, is somehow immune to the deadly plant disease.
"It doesn't have Panama disease in it, so perhaps it has genetic traits against the disease," Richard Allen, senior conservation assessor at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK said in a recent media report.
"We don't know until we actually do research on the banana itself, but we can't do the research until it's saved."
However, this is where the problem lies – there are only five mature banana trees in Madagascar.
Allen stated that the climate on the island has played a part in creating a banana that has tolerance to disease and drought.
The Madagascar banana is different from the Cavendish bananas because it grows seeds and is distasteful, but if both strains are combined, it could create a hybrid that is edible and durable, he said.
Experts state that the Madagascar plant is from the island's rich floral heritage.
Hélène Ralimanana, team manager at the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre, told the BBC last week that it's critical to research the makeup of the Madagascan banana to figure out what genes protect it from Panama disease, which shows no signs of slowing down.
"It is very important to conserve the wild banana because it has large seeds which can offer an opportunity to find a gene to improve the cultivated banana," she said.
For now, you will likely still see bananas at your local grocery store. But if disease spreads before researchers successfully cross-breed the fruit, then the popular Cavendish banana may be hard to find — and eventually, the fruit could disappear altogether.
Panama disease, which originated in the 1950's is a fungal disease that attacks the banana's roots. The disease started in Panama and the spread to Central America.
Panama disease cannot be chemically controlled and a particular strain is seen as a threat to the Cavendish bananas that grow in tropical far north Queensland in Australia.