It turns out that bananas are not what we believed them to be.
When ripe, the majority of bananas are yellow, sweet, and excellent when spread with peanut butter. A worldwide investigation, however, finds that the generic banana available in American shops has many more attractive rivals, with edible variants that may be scarlet or blue, squat or bulbous, seeded or seedless.
And the whole banana family tree is considerably more diversified and mysterious than previously believed, according to a research published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science earlier this month.
She and her colleagues investigated genetic information from hundreds of bananas and determined that at least three wild banana relatives had not yet been identified by botanists. Like the discovery of a long-lost relative, the knowledge that these missing wild forebears exist might alter our perception of bananas and reveal viable strategies for disease resistance.
Wild bananas, or Musa acuminata, are almost inedible because their flesh is dense with seeds. Scientists believe bananas were cultivated on the island of New Guinea more than 7,000 years ago. The original inhabitants of the island developed the plants to produce fruit without fertilisation and without seeds. Without a formal understanding of heredity and evolution, they were able to cultivate bananas that were rather delectable.
As trade routes and linguistic ties expanded, so did the distribution of the new banana. Farmers in the areas that later became Indonesia, Malaysia, and India mated it with other wild banana species to increase its genetic diversity.
By replicating breeding patterns in a computer software, it is already feasible to utilise genetic markers to trace bananas back to their origins. This method may disclose the kind of trade routes and agricultural methods that were created in various communities.
However, when Dr. Sardos and her colleagues performed similar study on a collection of cultivated bananas, they discovered that three predecessors could not be accounted for. One seems to have left a substantial genetic mark on bananas in Southeast Asia. Another was indigenous to the island of Borneo. The third seems to originate from New Guinea. In addition to leaving their genetic imprint in some geographic clusters of domesticated banana plants, however, their wild forebears remained entirely unknown to scientists.
The finding of these enigmatic forebears is also useful. According to Dr. Sardos, the fact that seedless, mechanically fruit-bearing bananas are sterile makes current banana breeding extraordinarily complicated. “You must return to wild bananas and determine how to produce fertile plants that resemble edible bananas,” she said. Then, you must crossbreed these plants with others in order to develop a new, edible, sterile banana.
Due to the difficulties of breeding new bananas, most farms across the globe, particularly in Africa and Central America, only cultivate the Cavendish variety, which is the most extensively eaten kind in the world. However, this is problematic since the minimal genetic variety of banana plants renders them prone to disease epidemics.
To diversify banana genetics and create more tolerant crops, breeders will need to return to wild bananas. They may examine several natural characteristics and determine which ones may be optimal for avoiding illness, fungal outbreaks, or tolerance to harsh climatic conditions. Pamela Soltis, a botanist at the Florida Museum of Natural History who was not involved in the research, stated, “Perhaps the answer is to use these other grown banana lines rather than relying just on our conventional banana.”
To do this, however, the banana family tree must be clarified. Dr. Sardos thinks that the finding of unknown banana relatives would encourage scientists to do more research into the genetic history of the crop.
Mathieu Rouard, a co-author of the research and Dr. Sardos’s colleague at Bioversity International who has studied bananas for almost 20 years, said, “My friends and family are constantly surprised that I’m still working on bananas. However, even after all this time, there are still many things to uncover.”
The quest is on for bananas.