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Banana crop's existence threatened by fungus

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Fruit distributor Chiquita has said bananas are "quite possibly the world's perfect fruit" since 1989.

But the safety of the banana crop is being jeopardized by a fungal disease with no way to stop the spreading of the disease.

Randy Ploetz, professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida, said the banana is being threatened by Panama disease.

The $12 billion industry is being threatened by a fungus that cannot be combatted by any fungicides.

"Once you've got it, it's an insolvable problem," Ploetz said. "You want to keep that pathogen far away."

There is more to the fruit than just Bananas Foster and banana splits. Bananas are a staple food for over a half a billion people in Africa and Asia, according to the botanic gardens conservation international Web site.

Panama disease threatens the cavendish, the type of banana most commonly eaten in the United States and Europe.

"It's a lethal disease," Ploetz said. "It gets in the plants vascular system, plugs up the plumbing and kills."

Ploetz said it is difficult to tell if and when the disease would move to the Americas.

"Its not an airborne pathogen," Ploetz said. "Its caused by a fungus and has a really broad host range. The cavendish banana is one of many types grown around the world."

Ploetz said the disease is currently in southeast Asia, but it is traveling.

"It's found mainly in southeast Asia, but it just jumped to the Philippines," Ploetz said.

Ploetz said it is difficult to see exactly how the disease moved from the Indonesian islands to the Philippines, but it happened in the last five years.

"There's a lot of people from islands in the Indonesian chain who have island hopped and brought it from Indonesia," Ploetz said.

But Ploetz has concerns of how easy the disease to travels.

And experts are worried the disease could cross the ocean and affect the crops grown in Latin America.

Ploetz said the fungus can be spread by one person bringing a banana in a suitcase from one country to another.


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