Since its discovery in the 1800s, Fusarium Wilt or Panama disease has been a
global threat to the banana industry, wiping out entire plantations in Asia,
Australia, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. The economic impact of
the disease has been catastrophic, with losses reaching US$18.2 billion to
One of the major breakthroughs in the industry was the discovery of another
variety of banana, known as the Cavendish. This variety was almost entirely
resistant to Panama disease. Currently, 99% of exported bananas and about
half of the total production worldwide are Cavendish bananas. However, the
Panama disease has made a comeback, and not even the Cavendish is immune.
Scientists now turn to modern biotechnology to create a new plant resistant
to Panama disease. Genetic modofication in particular, is seen as a possible
solution to protect the plants from Tropical Race 4 or TR4, the strain of
fungus that appeared in Taiwan in the early 2000s.
For instance, researchers from Australia have discovered that adding two
different genes - from a wild banana resistant to TR4 and another one from
nematode worms - to the genetic code of Cavendish bananas protects the
plants from TR4. Meanwhile, a team from Taiwan has already produced a
Cavendish line which can somewhat withstand TR4. Another study shows
evidence that some crops can defend bananas against TR4.