From: Rob Dunn, Wired
Published March 14, 2017 08:38 AM

Humans Made the Banana Perfect—But Soon, It'll Be Gone

On a plate, a single banana seems whimsical—yellow and sweet, contained in its own easy-to-open peel. It is a charming breakfast luxury as silly as it is delicious and ever-present. Yet when you eat a banana the flavor on your tongue has complex roots, equal parts sweetness and tragedy.

In 1950, most bananas were exported from Central America. Guatemala in particular was a key piece of a vast empire of banana plantations run by the American-owned United Fruit Company. United Fruit Company paid Guatemala’s government modest sums in exchange for land. With the land, United Fruit planted bananas and then did as it pleased. It exercised absolute control not only over what workers did but also over how and where they lived. In addition, it controlled transportation, constructing, for example, the first railway in the country, one that was designed to be as useless as possible for the people of Guatemala and as useful as possible for transporting bananas. The company’s profits were immense. In 1950, its revenues were twice the gross domestic product of the entire country of Guatemala. Yet while the United Fruit Company invested greatly in its ability to move bananas, little was invested in understanding the biology of bananas themselves.

United Fruit and the rest of the banana industry did what industries do. They figured out how to do one thing well—in this case, grow one variety of banana, the Gros Michel. Moreover, because it is difficult to get domesticated bananas to have sex (they are puritan in their proclivities, blessed with virtually no seeds), the Gros Michel was reproduced via suckers, clonally. Cuttings from the best specimens were replanted. As a result, virtually all bananas grown in Guatemala, in Latin America in general, and around the world for export were genetically identical. Identical in the way that identical human twins are identical and even a tiny bit more so. For industry, this was great. Bananas were predictable. Each was like each other. No banana was ever the wrong size, the wrong flavor, the wrong anything.

Read more at Wired

Photo credit: Steve Hopson (www.stevehopson.com) via Wikimedia Commons

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