Some people are going bananas about bananas possibly going extinct.

Save the bananas.

You may have heard that bananas are going extinct.

And it's sort of true: The banana as we know it is in danger. But that's also only part of the story.

To understand what’s happening with bananas today, we have to take a look at the bananas of years past ... because we’ve actually been in this situation before.


Years ago, the bananas found in grocery stores didn’t look or taste like the bananas we know now.

They looked like this:

The "original" banana: Gros Michel. Image via iStock.

By all accounts, those bananas apparently tasted better. Known as the Gros Michel strain, they were cloned and mass produced and shipped all around the world until their days as the reigning banana species were brought to an abrupt end. You know that deliciously sweet artificial banana flavoring that tastes nothing like a banana? Well, allegedly, that’s what the Gros Michel tasted like.

So, what happened? Why aren’t we still snacking on deliciously sweet candy-flavored bananas?

The Panama disease, a fungus that destroys any crop that’s susceptible to it, killed most of the supply, bringing the Gros Michel bananas to their knees more than a century ago.

With the Gros Michel banana near extinction, the banana industry went into a panic.

Farmers lost their crops and their livelihoods. The soil was tainted because of the Panama disease, so they couldn’t just start over.

But, luckily, there was a solution: One species of banana proved to be resistant to the Panama disease. It could be planted in the infected soil and would bear fruit — no problem. It was the Cavendish banana to the rescue.

The bananas we're used to seeing! The Cavendish. Image via iStock.  

The Cavendish banana is what most of us think of when we think of bananas.

While there are other varieties of bananas sold in local markets, many of which taste sweeter and are fun shades like pink and red, the Cavendish was the best bet for farmers because of its resistance to the disease. It’s not as delicious as the Gros Michel, but it would have to do.

The banana trade made a mistake though: They treated the Cavendish pretty much the same way they did the Gros Michel the century before. Instead of diversifying their banana production, they cloned just the Cavendish and ratcheted up production until the Cavendish became the most dominant banana in the market. Today, about 99% of the bananas consumed worldwide are of the Cavendish variety.  

But here’s the thing: Relying too heavily on one species of banana (or any other item, really) can be a mistake.

The red banana. Image via iStock.  

That’s called monoculture cropping — growing a genetically similar or identical crop without introducing any variants. And while it bodes well for production because it’s much easier to mass produce genetically identical crop, it also means that the slightest change can put the entire crop at risk. One disease can kill them all.

That’s what happened with the Gros Michel. And it’s on the verge of happening again today with our beloved Cavendish.

The adorably fuzzy pink bananas. Image via iStock.

A new version of the original Panama disease is back with a vengeance, and it’s targeting the Cavendish.

The situation is bad, but it’s not dire — not yet at least. While it feels a bit like a ticking banana time bomb, scientists and banana-breeders are on the case.

They’re trying to mate plants that are resistant to the new disease together, to create offspring that are more likely to make it if this situation repeats itself. They’re creating bananas that are built to survive.

And the farmers and economies that depend on the banana trade? They’re working to diversify their crop and to identify already-resistant banana species that can be grown in soil that’s been compromised by the disease. They’re not just waiting for a solution, they’re creating one.

The adorably tiny Lady Finger bananas. Image via iStock.

Our banana history may be repeating itself, but don't cry yourself to sleep just yet.

This time, we might be ready for it.

We’ve learned that doing the same thing over and over again will probably yield the same results, so we’ve got to change it up. Who knows, maybe in a few years, we’ll find a variety of delicious banana breeds in stores for all of us to enjoy snacking on.

Most Shared
True
Gates Foundation: The Story of Food
Courtesy of Houseplant.

In America, one dumb mistake can hang over your head forever.

Nearly 30% of the American adult population — about 70 million people — have at least one criminal conviction that can prevent them from being treated equally when it comes to everything from job and housing opportunities to child custody.

Twenty million of these Americans have felony convictions that can destroy their chances of making a comfortable living and prevents them from voting out the lawmakers who imprisoned them.

Many of these convictions are drug-related and stem from the War on Drugs that began in the U.S. '80s. This war has unfairly targeted the minority community, especially African-Americans.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Climate change is happening because the earth is warming at an accelerated rate, a significant portion of that acceleration is due to human activity, and not taking measures to mitigate it will have disastrous consequences for life as we know it.

In other words: Earth is heating up, it's kinda our fault, and if we don't fix it, we're screwed.

This is the consensus of the vast majority of the world's scientists who study such things for a living. Case closed. End of story.

How do we know this to be true? Because pretty much every reputable scientific organization on the planet has examined and endorsed these conclusions. Thousands of climate studies have been done, and multiple peer-reviewed studies have been done on those studies, showing that somewhere between 84 and 97 percent of active climate science experts support these conclusions. In fact, the majority of those studies put the consensus well above 90%.

Keep Reading Show less
Nature
via James Anderson

Two years ago, a tweet featuring the invoice for a fixed boiler went viral because the customer, a 91-year-old woman with leukemia, received the services for free.

"No charge for this lady under any circumstances," the invoice read. "We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible."

The repair was done by James Anderson, 52, a father-of-five from Burnley, England. "James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," the woman's daughter told CNN.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

Keep Reading Show less
popular