Bananalypse: Bananas may become extinct as a new fungus spreads around the world

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A popular fruit among most can’t seem to catch a break.

Bananas are under assault again from a disease that threatens the popular variety that Americans slice into their cereal or slather with chocolate and whipped cream in their banana splits.

But aside from its culinary delight, the banana is the eighth most important food crop in the world, and the fourth most important one for developing nations, where millions of people rely on the $8.9 billion industry for their livelihood

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida. In 1989 Ploetz discovered a strain of Panama disease, called TR4, that may be growing into a serious threat to U.S. supplies of the fruit and Latin American producers.

While there are nearly 1,000 varieties of bananas, the most popular is the Cavendish, which accounts for 45 percent of the fruit’s global crop — and the one Americans mostly find in their supermarkets.

But now the Cavendish, which makes up about 95 percent of global banana exports, is dying from the fungus strain Ploetz found. The strain has hit the banana crop in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The worry is that it will spread to Central and South America — where the U.S. gets the vast majority of its bananas.

The problem has gotten so bad, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, that countries that grow bananas have been warned to step up monitoring, reporting and prevention in order to tackle what it calls “one of the world’s most destructive banana diseases, and threatens the income of millions of people.”