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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cloned Bananas

There is a movement afoot to label foods - particularly meat - that result from cloning. This results, in part, from a non-scientific phobia that replaces evidence and logic with irrational fear. I suspect most of those people insisting that cloned foods are dangerous would never suspect that the world's most favorite fruit (actually a berry that grows as an herb), the banana, is cloned. It cannot reproduce on its own and has no seeds.

The variety we now eat is the Cavendish, which is immune to the devastating fungal blight that destroyed the Gros Michel, an earlier variety with seeds and a much softer flesh. Each Cavendish is its genetic twin, tastes exactly the same, ripens in exactly seven days, and is very predictable.

The Cavendish was exported to Asia where it became quite popular, but now the same fungus that wiped out the Gros Michel - that is a slight variant of the Central American fungus - is devastating the Cavendish plants. So far it has yet to jump hemispheres - only a matter of time -- and unless plant geneticists can splice in a gene that makes the banana resistant, the banana may no longer exist in a decade.

These interesting little gems are from a fascinating book entitled Banana: The Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel.
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