Bananas rank amongst some of the most popular fruits in the supermarket. During this last year, the retail giant Walmart reported that bananas sold more than any other item available within the store.
Despite its popularity, not many people know about the history of the banana and contrary to popular belief the scientific findings are eye-opening. Bananas are good for your health, and are packed with vitamins, and nutrients. They are low in calories and contain high amounts of potassium.
That’s the key to the banana’s radioactivity: Potassium. Potassium is essential to the human body, and other complex life forms. It is used to transmit nerve signals and it is commonly found in the membranes of our cells. Potassium comes in 3 different isotopes, one of which possesses radioactive qualities. This isotope is found in almost all fruits that are rich in potassium, and is one of the biggest sources of radioactive exposure on the human body second only to exposure to sunlight. The radioactivity of one banana represents about 1/100 of the radioactive exposure we encounter throughout the day.
In spite of its radioactive qualities, bananas are still a great fruit. They are sweet, healthy, and are a good source of sustenance. While enjoying this snack however you may have noticed that bananas the small black spots in the banana. These “seeds” are infertile, making the bananas “sterile mutants” as Hank Green from Scishow remarked. This particular brand of banana however may no longer be available in the global market in the coming future.
Prior to the 1960s, consumers in the US market were eating a different type of banana known as the Gros Michel. Since cultivated bananas are infertile, the only way to reproduce the plants would be to transplant their stems, a method used commonly in the process of cloning plants. This meant that all the Gros Michel bananas that were cultivated were almost genetically identical which would prove to be a fatal mistake. During the 1960’s a pathogen known as the Panama Disease began to spread amongst bananas. With all of the species of the bananas being genetically identical, the disease spread rapidly, and soon the Gros Michel bananas were brought to the brink of extinction in the US banana industry. Scientists tried to give the Gros Michel some genetic variety but as John Soluri, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon University in puts it, “Many of them waited until the last minute.”
Have you ever eaten banana flavored candies, or yogurt? You may have noticed that they do not actually taste like bananas. In reality however they do taste like bananas except not the ones we are accustomed to. Their taste mimics that of the Gros Michel which has been extinct for many years now. “It’s almost like what a Cavendish would taste like but sort of amplified, sweeter and, yeah, somehow artificial. Like how grape flavored bubble-gum differs from an actual grape.” Commented Rob Guzman, a Hawaiian banana farmer on BBC.
The future of the banana industry after the Gros Michel disaster was put into the hands of the Cavendish. The entire banana industry adopted the Cavendish, a species of banana that was more resistant to the pathogen. However, a strain of the panama disease that affects the Cavendish has been identified. The threat of the pathogen completely eradicating the Cavendish supply is still a threat, and there is no sure method of solving the problem besides providing more genetic variety in the event of a repeated disaster.