Are bananas doomed?

Possibly so! Dig this: In a story in The Guardian, Emile Frison — head of the Montpellier-based International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (yes, that’s a real organization) — warned that the banana may be gone in 10 years.

Why? Bananas are being ravaged by fungal diseases worldwide. And they can’t fight back and can’t adapt, because, what do you know, bananas reproduce asexually:

Almost all the varieties of banana grown today are cuttings - clones, in effect - of naturally mutant wild bananas discovered by early farmers as much as 10,000 years ago. The rare mutation caused wild bananas to grow sterile, without seeds. Those ancient farmers took cuttings of the mutants, then cuttings of the cuttings.

Plants use reproduction to continuously shuffle their gene pool, building up variety so that part of the species will survive an otherwise deadly disease. Because sterile mutant bananas cannot breed, they do not have that protection.

Worse, bananas are a hugely important crop:

This doesn’t just mean we will be eating aubergine splits and that future governments may be mocked for policy melon skins. The banana, in various forms, is the staple diet for some half billion people in Asia and Africa.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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