Infectious Panama disease in bananas spreads further again

Panama disease caused great damage in the banana plantations in Southeast Asia. Researchers from Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) have, together with some partners, demonstrated that this disease, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense has now arrived in Jordan. This means that the Panama disease has spread further and the great banana producing countries in Africa and Latin America are closer to danger. An international approach is needed to ensure food security for millions of people. The results of the research are available in scientific magazine Plant Disease.

The banana is not only the world's most favourite piece of fruit, it is also, for many people, an important food source. In the last century tens of thousands of acres of banana plantations in Latin America have been destroyed by Panama disease. Banana plants died en masse and ground remained contaminated for decades. The introduction of the resistant 'Cavendish' banana saved cultivation and cloning of the Cavendish banana is now carried out worldwide. Late last century in Southeast Asia, a new, more aggressive strain of the fungus which causes Panama disease had been discovered: Tropical Race 4 (TR4). This fungal strain massively affects the Cavendish banana in Southeast Asia and there is currently no way to protect it.

It was suspected some years ago in Jordan, that some banana plantations were contaminated with the Panama disease. The Ministry of Agriculture sent samples of the fungus to Professor Randy Ploetz of the University of Florida, who reported his findings to Gert Kema, researcher at Wageningen UR. PhD students from the research group of Gert Kema infected different banana species with the fungal samples from Jordan. These plants developed the same symptoms as plants infected with samples from Southeast Asia. DNA testing revealed that it was the same fungal strain (TR4). With this, researchers from Wageningen established that TR4 has now spread beyond Southeast Asia.

In Jordan relatively few bananas are grown. Banana plantations cover about 1000-1500 hectares of land but 80% of these plantations are now infected. How the Panama disease spread from Southeast Asia is unclear. Gert Kema argues that the spread of TR4 to Africa is only a matter of time. In Africa bananas are an important part of the diet, and the introduction of Panama disease threatens the food security of millions of people. Gert Kema: "There is an international approach needed to prevent the spread of Panama disease and in the worst case, control."

Wageningen UR has conducted this research with the University of Florida, the Jordanian National Centre for Agricultural Research and Extension and the University of Jordan. The research is financed by INREF, a public/private partnership between Wageningen UR and a number of international partners. Together they are trying to find a solution to counter the disastrous effects of Panama disease. For more information regarding the projects of Wageningen UR and Panama disease, please visit the website

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