Are Bananas Endangered?

The banana is the fourth-most important food commodity in the world (after rice, wheat and corn).  More than 100 million metric tons of bananas are grown every year in more than 130 countries.

But did you know that edible bananas are a genetic accident?  They have no seeds.  Therefore, they are sterile.  Therefore, they can only propagate through cloning – by using suckers or cuttings taken from another banana plant.

The Cavendish bananas we eat are genetically almost identical.  And because they lack biological diversity, bananas are extremely susceptible to diseases.  Bananas were once almost obliterated by fungal disease, and this is on the verge of happening again.

Panama disease (also known as Fusarium wilt) is a devastating soil-borne fungal disease that has been destroying banana plantations in every region where they grow.  The pathogen is extremely difficult to control due to its persistence in soil.  It is one of the most destructive plant diseases in the world.

Agilent technologies are being used to help protect banana production around the world.

Chinese researchers used an Agilent HPLC-ESI-MS and column to study healthy banana plants in a heavily wilt-diseased field.  They analyzed 57 bacterial strains in the surrounding soil for their antifungal properties.  One strain in particular was found to decrease the incidence of wilt and promote the growth of banana plants when combined with organic fertilizer.

Agriculturists have known that rotating bananas with Chinese chives can help control Panama disease, but they didn’t know why.  In a separate study, Chinese researchers used an Agilent GC, flame ionization detector and capillary column to study the antimicrobial activity of the Chinese chive.  They discovered that the chive releases antifungal volatiles that can inhibit Panama disease and increase cropland biodiversity.

Another danger to bananas is infestation by insects, especially when the fruits are transported all over the world.  Agriculturists have found that immersing bananas in hot water is an effective quarantine treatment against Mediterranean, oriental and melon fruit flies.  Hawaiian researchers using an Agilent LC, column and refractive index detector confirmed that such immersion does not reduce the quality of Brazilian bananas.  Immersion does delay ripening, which is actually an advantage when the fruits are shipped over long distances.

Agilent solutions are used throughout the food production chain, including incoming inspection, new product development, quality control and assurance, and packaging.  Agilent solutions are also used in environmental analysis to measure organic and inorganic chemicals in water, soil, air and food.

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