One of the focus areas of our research involves a fungal pathogen of bananas….. a fruit we all love to eat. It seems bananas (Musca acuminata) are having a rather difficult time of it right now. The worst part is that it is deja vu all over again!
Bananas are under attack from Black Sigatoka Mycosphaerella fijiensis (Morelet) (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sigatoka ) which is decimating banana crops around the world.
Bananas are a bigger deal than you may think. They are the forth largest cash crop in the world after wheat, rice and corn. The average american consumes about 25 pounds of bananas each year and that amount is greater than apples and oranges combined. In Rwanda, per capita consumption is over 500 lbs. per year!
Here are a couple of references detailing the problem:
Black sigatoka: An increasing threat to banana cultivation http://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/intropp/lessons/fungi/ascomycetes/Documents/0110-01F.pdf
Black sigatoka of Banana: A most important disease of a most important fruit
So, there is clearly a problem. In our greenhouse study, we were able to demonstrate equal control of Mycocosphaerella fijiensis compared to the conventional pesticide propiconazole. That’s a long way from a commercial product but, at least we are in the race to find a environmentally safe biological treatment before bananas disappear from your grocery shelves (its happened before!).