Race for the Peel

by Di Wang, Pharmaceutical Science and Economics double major

Banana2The banana.  The yellow, curved, oblong fruit we prefer over the round ones. We all recognize the most common banana, the Cavendish. However many of us don’t know that the Cavendish banana is fighting a deadly fungus.

The fungus, the cause of Panama disease, is devastating banana plantations around the world. Scientists are frantically trying to come up with a modified banana before the fungus invades Latin America.

But why is the Cavendish so susceptible to the Panama disease? Unlike the multiple varieties of apples, the banana is only mass-produced in one variety. Since all Cavendish bananas are genetically similar, one devastating disease can wipe out an entire region of the Cavendish if not managed correctly.

The Cavendish became the mainstream banana after an earlier variation of the Panama disease wiped out the previous dominant banana, the Gros Michel, in the 1950s. The Cavendish banana was selected because it is seedless, easy to grow, and has good flavor.

Now, scientists are frantically crossbreeding the Cavendish with Panama disease resistant plants.  Scientists, such as John Aguilar1, are creating prototypes of bananas similar to the Cavendish, however none of the current prototypes are market ready.

Even though the costs to grow bananas are constantly going up, people are still willing to buy the Cavendish. Banana exports from Honduras in 2015 have risen about 11.5% since 20142, which doesn’t fit the basic concept of supply and demand of economics.

Bananas are such staples in our diets that even when the price goes up, people will still buy more of them! Although the Panama disease won’t wipe out the Cavendish anytime soon, we will one day have to discover or create a new strain of banana and explain to our future generations what the Cavendish tasted like.

About the Author

Di Wang is a senior at The Ohio State University. He is currently a double major: BS in Pharmaceutical Science and BA in Economics.


1. PBS > Inside the fight to save the bananas we know (and love)

2.  Freshmark.com > Honduras: The value of banana exports up 11.5%

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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