Go­ing Ba­nanas

In­va­sion of the Mu­tant Fruit

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE MINI PAGE -

Have you ever looked for seeds in a ba­nana? You’re right. There are none. You may no­tice tiny bits of what were once seeds, but that’s all.

The ba­nana we eat can­not grow on its own. For thou­sands of years, peo­ple have grown this im­por­tant food from parts of other ba­nana plants.

The Mini Page talked with an author of a book about ba­nanas to learn more about this weird, won­der­ful fruit.

Mu­tant fruit

Ba­nanas that grow in the wild are ined­i­ble (in-ED-uh-buhl), or not able to be eaten. This is be­cause the seeds are so hard and so big that it is dif­fi­cult to get any ac­tual food from the fruit.

But about 50,000 years ago, ex­perts say, a mu­tant* ba­nana plant ap­peared in what is prob­a­bly now Malaysia. This plant had no seeds. Peo­ple could eat the fruit.

Trav­el­ing fruit

A smart per­son dis­cov­ered peo­ple could eat the fruit from the mu­tant plant. This Stone Age farmer took a

cut­ting, or piece of the ba­nana plant, and re­planted it to get more ba­nanas.

The mother plant had long shoots, or new growth, grow­ing out from un­der the plant. These shoots, which looked like gi­ant tulip bulbs, were about as long as an adult’s leg.

These “daugh­ter” shoots lasted for years, so peo­ple were able to carry them as they moved to new places, even across the ocean. Peo­ple re­planted these ba­nana shoots at their new homes, spread­ing the ba­nana through many trop­i­cal, or hot and rainy, lands.

Ba­nana in dan­ger

In the wild, mu­ta­tions oc­cur nat­u­rally in plants that grow from seeds. These changes can help the plant sur­vive dis­ease or dis­as­ters.

But be­cause ed­i­ble ba­nana plants are all nearly iden­ti­cal copies of the 50,000-year-old mother plant, they have no way to de­velop new de­fenses.

Sev­eral dis­eases are now threat­en­ing to wipe out our fa­vorite ba­nana va­ri­eties.

This girl is sell­ing ba­nanas along a road­side in Ti­morLeste, in South­east Asia. Ba­nanas do not ripen on the plants. They stay green un­til they are picked. Then the starch in the ba­nanas turns to sugar, and ba­nanas turn yel­low and sweet. Peo­ple in many coun­tries eat ba­nanas in all stages. They use green ba­nanas in meals much like we would use pota­toes. Sweet yel­low ba­nanas are for dessert.

*A mu­tant is a plant or an­i­mal that changes from oth­ers of its species be­cause its cod­ing, or genes, change.

Sci­en­tists look at a ba­nana leaf dam­aged by dis­ease.

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