How to Kill Big Mike

By Emilee Copple, Animal Science major

During the first half of the 20th century, the banana you grabbed on your way out the door was of a very different sort than the banana we are used to today. The Gros Michel or “Big Mike” was regarded as the gold standard. It has been described as a creamier, softer banana that earned the title of the world’s favorite fruit. However, its legacy came to an abrupt halt when a lethal fungus called Fusarium oxysporum came on the scene in the . Fusarium oxysporum or “Fusarium wilt” is a fungus that lives in the soil and attacks at the roots before making its way up the xylem of plants. In a majority of cases, this eventually leads to plant death. Once established in the soil, Fusarum can live for an indefinite period of time. Shockingly, we saw the disease dramatically increase in just ten years. In the wake of this disease, banana producers had to make a change from the highly susceptible Gros Michel to the hardier Cavendish. This required a tremendous amount of time and money as the Cavendish has markedly different growing requirements. This not only had a huge economic toll but, it changed the industry forever. Unfortunatly, while the Cavendish was not susceptible to the same strain of the fungus as the Gros Michel, it is not completely resistant. Other strains have proven to be a challenge to the modern banana. While biosecurity measures and a better understanding of the fungus have given us some tools, we still do not have a way to eradicate the disease. This means that, for now, our Cavendish could very well end up like the dearly beloved Big Mike.

About the Author:

I am a fourth year Animal Science student at Ohio State with an interest in infectious diseases and how they spread. Panama disease is such a widespread and readily transmitted disease that I thought it would be interesting to research further.  It has reshaped an entire industry in as little as ten years and continues to challenge production.


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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