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Vietnam's banana industry is threatened by disease

Fusarium is an important and dangerous fungal pathogen for a broad range of crops. A soil borne disease, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (FOC), infects the roots of banana plants. From the roots, the disease spreads into the plant’s vascular system, causing gradual deterioration and death. What makes the disease especially tenacious is that spores linger for up to twenty years after the infected plant is removed.

The banana industry has been severely impacted by FOC, particularly the Cavendish group. The impact of the disease has spread across the world for over 100 years and is predicted to spread further into Asia. Important banana producers such as China, the Philippines, Pakistan and Vietnam are likely to be impacted.      

Predictions are especially dire for Vietnam. Within the next five years, FOC is predicted to cause a loss of 8 percent of the banana production area of Vietnam. This number rises substantially to as much as 71 percent in the next 25 years. 

Most bananas are traded locally in Vietnam, as well as in many other banana growing regions throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. This means that the consequences of FOC have a direct effect on local economies and nutrition. Because of the high stakes involved, it’s become increasingly important to learn which species are causing Fusarium wilt in Vietnamese bananas.  

In an effort to learn more about the Fusarium wilt (and hopefully understand how to control it), an international team from research institutions in Vietnam set out to investigate. The team included experts from the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, Meise Botanic Garden, KU Leuven, and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

The scientists used DNA analysis as well as traditional morphological research to identify the fungal species. Interestingly, ¾ of the fungal infections in northern Vietnam were caused by F. tardichlamydosporum. Other species account for only a small percentage of infections. Tragically, infections are also now found in wild bananas as well. This means that wild bananas could possibly act as a reservoir for reinfecting cultivated bananas in the future. 

The study is published in the journal MycoKeys.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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