from the world's big
Say goodbye to the beloved banana
Those bananas you love are Cavendish bananas, and they're probably about to go extinct.
- The world's most popular edible variety is about to be wiped out by a fungal invader. Again.
- We've already lost Gros Michel bananas, which were the world's favorite until the 1960s.
- The solution? Possibly genetic editing, but more likely a greater availability of exotic varieties.
They're certainly among the most convenient fruits. Bananas are compact, tidy, bundles of potassium and deliciousness. And when we says "bananas," what we really mean are Cavendish bananas, an edible, cultivated subgroup of the fruit. Ninety-nine percent of the bananas sold in the world are seedless Cavendish bananas, although in the wild there are over a thousand strains of bananas, many of which are unsuitable for eating. Unfortunately, Cavendish bananas are about to go extinct.
Cavendish clones and T4
The father of our preferred banana
Image source: Sotheby's/Wikimedia
Cavendish bananas are pretty much genetically identical — they're all sterile clones from the fruit of a single English tree, grown in 1834 by William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, in his greenhouse. As such, they're all vulnerable to the same threats. What's killing them now is a soil-borne fungus, Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc), also known as Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4). It kills bananas by infecting its root and vascular system, rendering it unable to take in critical minerals and water.
TR4 first began ruining Cavendish bananas in Malaysia and Indonesia around 1990 and has since made its way through Southeast Asia and to the Middle East and Africa. Last year, it reached Latin America, the world's main source of bananas.
Growers are doing what they can to beat back T4's advance—including taking acre to use only untainted planting materials so as to avoid spreading T4 via soil contamination—and Australia has shown some success in slowing down the assault. However, these are stopgap efforts that are ultimately unlikely to save the Cavendish.
Not Fusarium oxysporum’s first rodeo
Credit: Keith Weller, USDA-ARS - USDA/Wikimedia
This is not the banana industry's first encounter with this fungus. Up to the 1960s, the world's most popular edible banana was the Gros Michel, or "Big Mike," variety. To meet worldwide demand, growers got into the Gros Michel monoculture business big-time, with thousands of tropical-forest hectares converted into massive plantations growing these bananas.
What spelled doom for the Gros Michel banana was, yes, Fusarium oxysporum — the disease it caused was known as "Fusarium Wilt," or "Panama Wilt." It was the T1 version of today's T4, and it largely wiped out the Gros Michel banana, nearly taking the entire banana industry down with it. (You can still find a Gros Michel banana, but it's not easy.)
The Cavendish didn't quite have Gros Michel's rich taste, but it wasn't vulnerable to T1, and so it took the place of the Gros Michel as the world's main edible banana.
Not the first rodeo for the Cavendish
A banana leaf with Black Sigatoka
Credit: Scot Nelson/Wikimedia
The Cavendish is also susceptible to another fungal invader via a disease called Black Sigatoka. This fungus, Pseudocercospora fijiensis, destroys the plants' leaves, producing cell death that damages the plants' ability to photosynthesize. If left uncontrolled, crop yields can be reduced by 35 to 50 percent.
Growers are fighting back with continual leaf trimming and the liberal use of fungicides—more than 50 applications of the toxic chemicals may be required each year to bring Black Sigatoka under control. This is, of course, harmful to workers managing the crops and to the environment, and makes growing Cavendish bananas less profitable. If this weren't bad enough, repeated applications of fungicides end up strengthening the fungus and making it even harder to control by selecting for mutations that can withstand the chemicals.
Fixing the Cavendish?
There is one field full of healthy Cavendish bananas and T4, however. It's in the town of Humpty Doo in Australia. Researchers led by James Dale of Queensland University of Technology inserted a gene from a wild banana into their Cavendish bananas and that did the trick. Big Think readers may recognize Dale's name—he is also part of the team developing the so-called "golden banana," a fruit packed with vitamin A that could help reduce world hunger. We've written about this intriguing project before.
Other scientists also see hope for the Cavendish via genetic editing, whether that's by activating existing genes or by de-activating genes that misbehave in the presence of T4. Would you eat a genetically modified banana? Many wouldn't, and it's therefore unlikely that genetically modified Cavendish bananas will reach the worldwide market in time, especially considering the extended testing for safety that various governments would require.
Hope for the banana-lover
Some observers are already looking beyond the Cavendish in hopes that we might end up with an even better fruit, given the many varieties of banana that exist in nature. Two such bananas are Peru's popular Isla banana and the Blue Java, a banana that tastes like ice cream. Maybe the demise of the Cavendish will end up being a good thing.
- The Blue Banana - the True Heart of Europe - Big Think ›
- What's So Special About a Golden Banana? - Big Think ›
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.
- The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.