Gert Kema by Webmaster Public Symposium Fungal Catastrophes 2020-02-26 10:50:37

Going bananas GHJ (Gert) Kema, Wageningen University, Wageningen

Going Bananas is the title of the second lecture of our public symposium. Bananas are a major food crop. In his lecture, Gert Kema will shed light on a disastrous disease in bananas: Fusarium Wilt of banana (FWB) or Panama disease, which is caused by a suite of soil-borne fungi that belong to the genus Fusarium. In the previous century FWB devastated Gros Michel banana plantations in Central America. Fortunately, another cultivar with resistance to the disease, the Cavendish banana, saved the industry.

Today, FWB threatens banana again. Cavendish bananas and many local varieties destined for domestic markets are decimated by a new Fusarium species, the so-called Tropical Race 4 (TR4). However, Cavendish bananas cannot be substituted with resistant varieties. They are not available and developing new varieties is complicated because all edible bananas are sterile and hence develop seedless fruits. This is the very reason why we can eat them, contrary to wild bananas whose pea-sized seeds fill-up the entire fruit. Hence, all edible bananas are propagated as clones. This makes banana crops genetically identical – so-called monocultures - and therefore vulnerable to a plethora of disease and pests.

Kema addresses in his lecture interesting and puzzling properties of Fusarium fungi causing FWB, how they spread across the globe and possible short and long-term ways to deal with the disease.