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World banana crop is likely to go extinct within decades

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Wednesday, December 2, 2015, 9:39 AM

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In happier times: Bananas — enjoy them while you can.

Here’s something to make you go ape — bananas may go extinct.

A new study reveals that the most prevalent species of the famously slippery fruit is susceptible to a rapidly spreading virus that has already claimed other varieties.

Researchers believe that the virus, called Tropical Race 4, will make the leap to South America, where 82% of the world’s Cavendish bananas are grown.

The virus is old news to banana farmers — it’s already destroyed the legendary Gros Michel strain — but the Cavendish was long thought to be immune.

The extinction of the banana would impoverish millions of growers in poor areas of the world.ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

The extinction of the banana would impoverish millions of growers in poor areas of the world.

The main problem is that bananas have been bred to be seedless — meaning that every banana is a genetic clone of every other banana. A disease that affects one banana affects them all. “Any disease management eventually fails in a highly susceptible monoculture,” the study says.

The virus is pesticide resistent and attacks a banana plant’s root system so that the plant basically becomes dehydrated regardless of how well it is irrigated. The virus can lay dorment in soil for 30 years.

An earlier strain of the virus was first recorded in the late 1800s when Australia’s crop went belly-up. The Gros Michel variety succumbed to near-extinction in the 1960s.

Virtually 100% of the world’s bananas are now the Cavendish variety.

As a result, the world needs “drastic strategy changes” to solve the problem, plant researcher Nadia Ordonez said in the PLOS Pathogens study, which also pointed out that “developing new banana (species) requires major investments in research and development.”

gkuntzman@nydailynews.com

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