ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
30 January 2003


"It is too risky to modify the genes of edible fruit"


Bananas 'can't disappear by 2003'

The Nation, Thailand, Thursday, January 30, 2003

A warning by Belgian scientists about the extinction by 2013 of the world's most popular edible fruit, the banana, has bemused Thai experts on the fruit.

Though it is accepted that bananas are subject to natural threats, Benchamas Silayoi, from Kasetsart University's Faculty of Agriculture, said it was impossible that the plant species - which is a staple food of millions globally - would soon vanish from the Earth.

Benchamas said there was a world collection of the banana's germplasm in Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. The objective of the world's largest collection, which contains over 1,100 accessions, is to conserve the plant.

"Once the bananas planted on Earth are eradicated by any threat, at least the world has genetic materials from bananas in vitro that could be  placed on Earth," said one professor, who is an expert in the species.

Besides the huge collection in Belgium, there is an Asian banana collection kept in the Philippines.

Moreover, Thailand has its own collection at Kasetsart University's banana tissue culture lab.

A report of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBP), recently presented in New Scientist Magazine, warned that the last common banana tree in the world would disappear within 10 years because of its "genetic decrepitude".

The report claimed that the banana, which is a sterile mutant plant species, cannot evolve to develop resistance to pests and diseases. The extinction of bananas in Cuba was mentioned as an example.

Veerachai na Nakhon, director of the Botanic Garden Organisation, agreed with the report that bananas have a tendency towards extinction, but not in 10 years.

"Not only bananas, all plant varieties take a long time to be wiped off the Earth. It takes longer than a decade for a common species to become a rare species, then endangered, before reaching the status of extinction," he said.

His comment was echoed by Benchamas, who said that pests and diseases could not make the plant extinct in such a short period of time. "Only big bombs can do that," she said.

Benchamas and Veerachai also took issue with the INIBP's contention that genetically modified bananas were the only way to conserve the plant species.

"It is too risky to modify the genes of edible fruit," said Veerachai.

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