Bananas are under threat from one of the world’s most devastating banana diseases. Fusarium, or Panama wilt, is a type of fungus that is carried in the soil and attacks plants. At this point in time, it has now taken hold in Latin America, having already devastated banana crops elsewhere in the world.
Of the 155 million metric tons of bananas produced every year, a quarter is threatened by fusarium wilt, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, the IAEA is helping scientists from six Latin American countries detect and contain the disease, using nuclear and related techniques. Irradiation – exposing an object to radiation – is widely used in the food industry to safely destroy disease-causing bacteria and control pests without significantly affecting the food’s taste or smell.
To fight the banana disease, irradiation techniques are being used to help develop new disease-resistant crop varieties for farmers, in a process called mutation breeding. In February, the IAEA trained 12 scientists from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela in mutation breeding. The training also covered tissue culture, developing mutant populations and how to screen crops for disease resistance.