Fernando Garcia-Bastidas has worked his whole career to save bananas from extinction by Panama Disease, but now his work has new urgency after having to inform authorities in his home country of Colombia that a new strain had arrived.
Garcia-Bastidas says before the rise of the current global commercial banana called Cavendish, there was another type of banana, known as Gros Michel, but it's not used for global trade anymore because a fungus called Fusarium, which causes Panama Disease and wipes out crops that don't have immunity.
Garcia-Bastidas nearly worked a full decade using non-GMO breeding techniques to develop a new breed of banana resistant to Panama disease but that also looks good as a typical banana. Then, in 2019, he was put in the awkward position of informing authorities in his own country that the new Panama disease variant had arrived in its territory.
"That was my biggest nightmare since I started my work with banana," he said, "I did similar things, informing before other countries but could never imagine I had to do it with my own country."
In 2012, Garcia-Bastidas made the switch to researching bananas is now a researcher leading the breeding program at Keygene, a crop innovation research and technology company in Wageningen, the Netherlands.
Garcia-Bastidas is one of a large number of Colombian researchers overseas who are helping to solve agricultural conundrums. For example, a fascination with microbes led Colombian plant pathologist Carolina Mazo-Molina to gain her PhD from Cornell and she is now helping in the fight against one of the biggest threats to the world’s tomato crop – a microscopic bacterium.
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