GUESTS: Dr. James Dale, with Queensland University of Technology and Mark Smith, Farm Manager at Darwin Fruit Farms


Is the world running out of bananas? Well, no. Not…yet — but nature is flashing a big, yellow, squishy “caution” sign. In this episode, Dr. Kaylee Byers peels away our assumptions about food security by looking at bananas. Venturing Down Under, we connect with Dr. James Dale from Queensland University of Technology – a bona fide banana expert, who tells us exactly why this iconic yellow fruit could one day become a rarity. But, with the help of a clever genomic idea, he and his intrepid team of Aussie researchers and farmers are looking at how to hit “abort” on complete Bananageddon.

Special thanks to Mark Smith with Darwin Fruit Farm Party Limited for providing field recordings for this episode.



Peeling into bananageddon


The cavendish equation, a lucky banana swap


Safety net, saving the cavendish


Dr. Kaylee Byers: Test, test, test.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: What’s a food you couldn’t live without?

Pasta lover: I think pasta and sushi.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Well, two very good options.

Read Transcript

Woman: Yeah. I feel like a basic grain will get you through.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: If it was to suddenly vanish from your plate…You thought about that very practically. I appreciate it.

Woman: Thank you.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: … and your world, it would be a bleaker place.

Multiple: I think shawarma. The cherry tomato. Cucumbers. Thai curry.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Oh, nice. I can think of a couple.

Little Boy: Oh, that’s easy.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Coffee.

Little Boy: Mangoes.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Chocolate.

Man: Does chocolate count?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah.

Man: Chocolate.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: My diet at this point is about 25% sushi, so my life without a salmon avocado roll? I don’t even want to know her.

Couple: Sashimi, sashimi.

Couple: Oh, I love sashimi. It’s so good.

Couple: That’s so good.

Couple: Delicious.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: The thing is, if I have a craving for any of those things, I can just pop down to the local Canadian grocery and pick it up at record high prices. But still, as if by some magic, exactly what I want when I want it sits on a shelf ready for me. But of course, there’s no actual magic here. Behind the scenes, a globe- sized wheel turns fluorescent- lit freezers into ready- to- eat banquets, but beyond the aisles of shiny packaging, hangs a big, yellow, and squishy caution sign.

Englishman: I really like bananas.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Really?

Englishman: Yes.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: You are listening to Nice Genes, where we prune and pluck sun- ripe genomics tales, brought to you by Genome British Columbia. I’m your host, Dr. Kaylee Byers, connoisseur of delicious science stories. To peel into today’s episode-

Producer Sean Holden: Settled in? You got your water?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yep.

Producer Sean Holden: Check 1, 2, 3.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: … I’m joined by Nice Genes producer- I got it.

Producer Sean Holden: I’m all set. Let’s roll.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: … Sean Holden, who has a little non-commissioned and entirely rigorous experiment for us to try.

Producer Sean Holden: Okay, uh-huh . Do you have the goods? You got the goods?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got the goods. Can you tell everyone what the goods are?

Producer Sean Holden: Yeah. Okay. So sitting before Dr. Byers and myself are two tasty treats. We have a locally sourced and wonderfully bright banana, and to be more specific, it’s a Cavendish banana, kind of the ones that you’re used to seeing in your grocery store. And next to that, we have an also bright replica of a banana. It’s your sort of run-of-the-mill banana-flavored candy.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: So are we in taste test territory? Is that what’s going on?

Producer Sean Holden: Okay, so do you want me to tell you why or should we just kind of get into eating?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah, I want to eat them.

Producer Sean Holden: Let’s start with the banana. Let’s give it a go. Hope people are getting some really nice mushy banana sound.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: No, this is good. This is good. I bet it sounds really good.

Producer Sean Holden: Okay. I’m getting an earthy taste. A fruity… A fruity flavor.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Banananess from the terroir.

Producer Sean Holden: No surprises.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: No, yeah. You weren’t surprised by the taste of your banana.

Producer Sean Holden: No, yeah. Whoa.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Who wasn’t seeing that? I didn’t see that coming.

Producer Sean Holden: Yeah, I don’t know. Banana, it’s good. So you got your treat, you got the-

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah, the tiny banana statue, but squishier.

Producer Sean Holden: Actually doing the compare, I can really tell.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah. I’d say one, it’s like a wannabe banana. It’s going for the sweetness-

Producer Sean Holden: Almost like a knockoff? Like they kind of took the smell of the banana and kind of crammed it into a really sweet sugar.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Kind of like, ” We don’t fully know what it tastes like, but we know what it smells like, so we’ll try to make a flavor based off that.”

Producer Sean Holden: Yeah?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah. There is a big difference between the banana versus the candy.

Producer Sean Holden: Well, the truth is the candy that we might think is just super sweet because of artificial flavoring has actually quite the backstory. Now we’ve all been there, you’re lost and troubled, and the only thing around you for miles is a processed and glucose banana bonbon, when really all you want is the real thing. And the candy softening in your mouth is a toothsome let- down.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Tale is old as time, we’ve all been there. But why doesn’t the candy, the sweet treat, hold up to its big banana inspiration?

Producer Sean Holden: Yeah. I mean, I’ll reveal in just a moment, but I think it’s time for me to raise the stakes of this seemingly mundane experiment

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Raise away, by all means.

Producer Sean Holden: Okay. So that candy taste isn’t a mere wannabe banana. In fact, in some ways, it’s a truer representation than the actual fruit you have on your desk right now. And that sweeter taste, it’s sort of a time capsule, a remnant of the past. And by flipping through the dusty pages of its story, we start our journey of uncovering a stark truth about our future, potentially the end of our loved bananas, a dark projection of what could be complete and total bananageddon.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Well, Sean, you know I love the drama. That does feel very dramatic, and I’m imagining sort of a Ben Affleck cameo already.

Producer Sean Holden: Yeah, Batman, but Bananaman? Is that what you’re kind of picturing?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah, those are the vibes. Yeah.

Old Timey Announcer: Eric is Bananaman, ever alert for a call to action!

Producer Sean Holden: Ready to peel back the layers of this banana tale?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: All systems go.

Producer Sean Holden: We’ll need a doctor for this.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Dr. Who?

Producer Sean Holden: Dr. James Dale, an expert in all things banana.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Is it fair to call you the Bananaman for this episode?

Dr. James Dale: Well, a few people have, but there are other people called Bananaman, as well, so, actually-

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Really?

Dr. James Dale: Yes, yes, yes.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: He is a distinguished professor at the University of Queensland in the School of Biology and Environmental Science. And how many different kinds of bananas are there?

Dr. James Dale: Kaylee, that’s hard to say. Somewhere between about 300 and 1,000.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Okay, that is a range. Yeah.

Dr. James Dale: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Many of the different types, landraces, varieties, have not been either collected or characterized.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Let’s put this in perspective. What makes bananas important to our diets around the world?

Dr. James Dale: Okay. Well, bananas are one of the top 10 food crops in the world. Most people don’t realize that. Rice, wheat, maize, potatoes, cassava, and then bananas.

So it’s an incredibly important food crop from two reasons. One is that in some countries it’s their major form of starch. We do quite a lot of work in Uganda. So there, the consumption can be 500 grams to a kilo per person per day. A kilo of bananas is around about 10 bananas, and so they tend to harvest them green before all the starch has been converted to sugar.

The rest of the world, particularly the Western world, eats bananas as a dessert fruit. The reason it’s probably so popular, bananas are really cheap in the supermarket and they’re produced all year round. They travel well. For instance, they carry their own packaging around with them, and nutritionally they’re very good. It’s an incredibly common fruit. It’s by far the most purchased fruit in the Western world.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: I had no idea bananas were so important and that there were so many species.

Producer Sean Holden: Yeah, but for our story, I want to zoom in on one specific king of banana. It’s called Le Gros Michel, or also known as Big Mike.

Dr. James Dale: About the beginning of last century maybe a bit before, they started to export bananas from south and Central America, particularly up to North America, and then later over to Europe. And the banana that they exported in those days was called Gross Michel or Gros Michel, Big Mike. The reason it was so good is it’s high-yielding and tastes very good. It’s got quite a thick skin and so it can travel without getting too badly damage, and it grew very well in plantations.

Producer Sean Holden: The Gros Michel was super popular back in the day. And to solve our candy mystery, the reason it doesn’t taste like the bananas you’re used to? Well, it’s because that flavor was originally modeled after the taste of Gros Michel. Naturally, it’s much more sweet than the ones that you’re used to in the store today.

Dr. James Dale: So that was the reason that Gross Michel was so popular.

Producer Sean Holden: Its prestige had them flying off the shelves. And Kaylee, if you’ll allow me just a brief tangent to explain just how important these bananas came to be?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: You never have to ask me to go on a banana tangent. Please proceed.

Producer Sean Holden: Okay. Yeah. So as Dr. Dale was saying, bananas became an essential and lucrative staple of the North American diet. In the late 1800s and early 20th century in Central and South America, the companies that owned the Gros Michel fields became powerful institutions. And pardoned the pun, but things were ripe for controversial history to unfold.

Old Timey Announcer: The cargo is more valuable than pirates’ gold, place we call Bananaland.

Producer Sean Holden: These companies went beyond the banana business, hospitals, schools now-

Old Timey Announcer: Even building a railroad to haul bananas through this tropical country is a story in itself.

Producer Sean Holden: They were all erected during this banana-growing empire. It’s where we get the term banana republic as many of these companies became more powerful than the local governments in these regions. For instance, one massive producer called the United Fruit Company was having issues with strikes and local rebellions so they requested aid from the United States of America. In order to secure its interests, The US shipped its military units, troops secured the railways and lines of trade, sometimes even leading to violence. This period was coined as the Banana Wars where interventions were used to keep the companies in a position of power and to keep the bananas coming.

Dr. James Dale: And in the early days with Gross Michel, they would harvest bunches and just pile the bunches on a truck or on a ship. And then of course, all of the next level of technology came on and the bananas, they’ll leave the plantation in South or Central America or Philippines, where the major exporters are, and time it perfectly in these shipping containers, they get to the supermarket and they’re perfect. They’re perfectly yellow, ready to eat.

Old Timey Announcer: Our journey to Bananaland has ended. We hope you enjoyed the trip. We know you like bananas.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: But for the legendary Gros Michel, there’s a reason we don’t see it on our shelves today. Its days were numbered.

Dr. James Dale: In the first half of last century, a disease, this disease called Panama Disease, started to kill the Gros Michel in South and Central America and in other places around the world as well, and then it became really a pandemic.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: So what were fruit producers supposed to do? Well, luckily, there was a ready-made solution at their disposal.

Dr. James Dale: Okay, yeah. So Cavendish came on the scene, and the reason Cavendish came on the scene was that it was resistant to Panama Disease race 1. It had all of the other characteristics. It yielded well, it tasted very good, and it traveled very well. But Cavendish has a really, really interesting history. Nobody actually knows where it came from. The Cavendish probably evolved around about 1, 000 years ago. It was selected from something that occurred naturally.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Oh, okay. So we’re on the banana tour, we’re tasting bananas, and we say, ” This one, we like this one, we need more of this one.”

Dr. James Dale: Yeah. So the early farmers would’ve said, ” Oh, this one’s good. It hasn’t got any seeds.” So it’s interesting sometimes when you cut a banana open, you’ll see little black specks and they’re actually the aborted seeds.
Anyway, going back to the origins of Cavendish.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Please.

Dr. James Dale: There was a guy in Mauritius, this is in the early 1800s, who was a religious pastor, but he was also an amateur horticulturalist. And at that stage, there were a lot of Chinese immigrants… well, maybe not immigrants, probably taken there against their will… transiting through Mauritius, and many of them were bringing some of their food. Bananas was one of the things that they were bringing. And this guy was collecting all of these different types of bananas. Anyway, he had a friend in the UK called Barclay, and Barclay was also an amateur plant hunter or plant collector. And so this guy sent Barclay two bananas up to his estates up in the UK. Unfortunately, Barclay didn’t last much longer than that, not because of the bananas. Something else caused his demise.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: That was how the things were then.

Dr. James Dale: That’s right, yes, yes. And anyway, so his family decided they would liquidate the estates and they sold these two bananas. One apparently went to Europe, nobody knows what happened to that, probably died. The other one was bought by a woman who gave it to her friend, who was the Duke of Devonshire. So rather than the Cavendish be called the Duke of Devonshire, the family name is Cavendish.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Oh, I don’t know, the Duke would’ve been a pretty good name for a banana. Can you imagine?

Dr. James Dale: Yeah, it would’ve been. Yeah. Yeah. So interesting that when I was over in England, I went over for a conference, but my wife came with me and I went up to Chatsworth House and the original Cavendish bananas are still there.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Wow.

Dr. James Dale: They’ve kept them propagated. They’ve got them in a locked glass house.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Has anyone gone on a search to try to find the missing other sucker of the other plant? We know it’s gone. Has anyone tried to track this thing down?

Dr. James Dale: I had a very brief attempt. No one had any idea. The only comment that I found that it’d been bought by somebody and went to Europe and that was it. So maybe somewhere kicking around Europe is the sibling.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Okay. Just a couple of suckers and one survived and one maybe not. Unclear.

Dr. James Dale: Yep, that’s right.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Out there on the lam. The Cavendish banana has virtually replaced the Gros Michel for the many reasons Dr. Dale mentioned. And if anything, we’ve gotten hungrier for them. In both Sean’s and my homeland of Canada, we import roughly 100 bananas per person every year. That’s more like Bananada than Canada.

Producer Sean Holden: And Kaylee, might I add, that was the end to all of our troubles. We continued popping and peeling soft, squishy goodness into our faces for the rest of our days, riding off into the sunset.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Incredible. I believe it. Tell me it’s so.

Producer Sean Holden: Well, you and I both wish it was that simple

News Reporter: Officials in Colombia confirm a fungus that decimated banana plantations in Asia and Australia is now there.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Things are not looking so great for the Cavendish. Are we sort of seeing history play out again the same way that it did with the Gros Michel, but with the Cavendish?

Dr. James Dale: Yes, we are. So diseases particularly have a huge impact on banana production because they’re genetically identical. However, in the 1990s, another disease, which appeared to be Panama Disease and it is, started to become recognized, particularly in Indonesia and up in Taiwan. It was Panama Disease, but it was a different strain. It was called Tropical Race 4. And the difference with Tropical Race 4 as opposed to the one that wiped out Gros Michel, is it kills Cavendish bananas.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Déjà vu. The Cavendish story is looking a lot like a Gros Michel sequel. But we are speaking with Dr. James Dale because he and a trusty crew of Aussie optimists are going to try and save the Cavendish with science.

Dr. James Dale: Unlike the Gros Michel story where Cavendish was sitting on the shelf and ready to go as a replacement, there isn’t anything like Cavendish that’s resistant to Tropical Race 4. So my group, we started in around about 2000. This disease is looking pretty serious, but at that time, it wasn’t a superstar disease. It was really confined to only a few countries in Southeast Asia. But we decided it was probably going to have quite a big impact. And at that time, we were working on genetic modification of bananas. So we decided before genetic modification became a real concern for consumers, we’d started to work on genetic modification because we thought, ” Wow, what a great technology for things like bananas or anything that’s vegetatively propagated, what a great technology to be able to improve them.”

Old Timey Announcer: (Signing) But yes, we have an old banana. (singing)

Dr. Kaylee Byers: You are listening to Nice Genes, a podcast all about the fascinating world of genomics and the evolving science behind it, brought to you by Genome British Columbia. I’m Dr. Kaylee Byers, your host, and we want to get more people to listen to the genomic stories that are shaping our world. So if you like Nice Genes, hit follow on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your shows. Slip us into your friend’s podcast feeds by banana-splitting one of your favorite stories.

Mark Smith: Hi, my name’s Mark.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: That’s Mark Smith.

Mark Smith: I’m the farm manager at Darwin Fruit Farms.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: He heads an operation in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Mark Smith: I live in Palmerston, which is about 20 minutes south of Darwin and about 45 minutes from the farm.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: A banana farm.

Mark Smith: So I’m just going to load this dog up, we’re going to head off. Let’s go. Mick, come on, quick. Good girl. The sky’s a brilliant red. It’s going to be another bluebird day. It’s dry season. I’ve been working in bananas pretty well all my working life. I started as a young fellow on my uncle’s farm in Kununurra on the Old River, and in 1995 moved to Lambells Lagoon in Darwin.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Mark has been working with bananas all his life and a little disease called TR4 completely changed his world.

Mark Smith: In 1998, Panama was detected in the territory. Within two years, everyone had pulled out. We kept going because we still saw the opportunity of growing local bananas. We tried everything. It was difficult. We got to the stage where we ended up turning the bananas over very quickly and trying to leave the ground fallow for quite a few years and before we planted back into it, but it still doesn’t work. There’s still Panama’s endemic in here, and it sort of raises its ugly head as soon as he put a host in the ground.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: But the banana farm he and his tail-wagging accomplices are taking us to today isn’t your average batch of Cavendish.

Mark Smith: Okay. I’ve arrived at the farm and I’m heading out the back. And the reason I do this lap around the farm every morning before work is to make sure we’ve got no unwanted guests in the farm

Dr. Kaylee Byers: And by unwanted guests, he means…

Mark Smith: We get a lot of feral animals up here, buffalo and pigs, they get quite nasty. We also have a lot of native animals here, dingoes, snakes, plenty of snakes, birds. We’ve even had crocodiles come up here in the wet season.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: What makes this field special, other than the crocs and the snakes, is that it’s a big experiment, one that has kept Mark and the Bananaman himself, Dr. James Dale, busy for some time, and it may be one of the first safe bastions for our favorite yellow fruit.

Mark Smith: Okay, I’m just pulling up paddock now where we’re putting bags on bunches or bunch covering. It’s something we do every week. When the new flowers come out and the petals drop off and the fingers are exposed or the fruit’s exposed, we cover them with a bag. And this is to prevent leaf rub, sunburn, insect attacks. So it’s only purely cosmetic, but it keeps our fruit looking really good. “Hi, Phillip. How are you going? Do you want to just put this bag on now?” The previous owners approached James Dale because he knew of a gene out of a native banana, resistant gene, and asked James and his team if they could put this resistant gene into a Cavendish banana.

Dr. James Dale: But to do that, we had to find a gene that would provide resistance to Tropical Race 4. So that was our first attempt coming up with resistance. A colleague of ours, wonderful plant pathologist, an American called Ivan Buddenhagen. Anyway, he was up in Southeast Asia. He saw these bananas growing in a plantation that had been completely wiped out by Tropical Race 4, and here they were growing, called Musa acuminata malaccensis. It’s absolutely full of seed, so there’s very little flesh. So he collected the seed and he sent it down to Queensland.

Some colleagues of mine did some tests and some of the seeds were resistant to Tropical Race 4. ” Okay, what are the genes in this resistant seedlings that were not present in the susceptible seedlings?” There is a bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Its lifestyle is genetic modification, and it has an incredibly wide host range, so it’s a pathogen of bananas.

What it does is it infects a plant and it transfers some of its genes into its host’s DNA, and those genes encode certain sugars, or genes to make certain sugars, that only it can live on. Wow. It’s very, very smart bacteria. What it didn’t figure out when it was evolving that humans would come along and say, ” Here’s this little bit of DNA that the bacteria transfers into its host. What if we took out its genes and put in the genes that we wanted to put into the host?” And bingo, of course, it works really well.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: So we kind of imagine it sort of as a post office person coming to your door every day with the same flyer and you just change what the flyer is and it’s coming into your house.

Dr. James Dale: That’s right. Yeah. And we came up with a candidate called RGA2 and we transferred that into Cavendishes. We then had to wait awhile because we couldn’t test them in Queensland because the disease wasn’t present. Anyway, we finally found a farmer up in the Northern Territory and his plantation was being decimated by TR4, and he said, ” You want to come up and do your field trials up at my place?” And we said, ” Yeah. Fabulous. That’s great. Yeah.”

Mark Smith: I’m just walking into one of the banana bays at the moment. It’s quite pleasant in here. The trees are quite tall. And in 2012, we planted a first field trial here in Darwin.

Dr. James Dale: We took seven lines up there and put them in the field.

Mark Smith: It was going quite well. And in 2015, banana freckle wasn’t detected in the territory.

Dr. James Dale: We started to see all of the non-genetically modified bananas and some of the genetically- modified lines as well starting to die.

Mark Smith: All the bananas in Northern Territory were wiped out for two years.

Dr. James Dale: And then two of the lines didn’t develop any disease or very small amounts of disease.

Mark Smith: I think it was 2018, we did another field trial and they’re still in the ground now.

Dr. James Dale: So we got pretty excited. We went through three and a half years in that field trial and those two lines still look absolutely fabulous.

Mark Smith: Looking down a row now, we’ve got 220 meters down the other end, you’ll see a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. It’s quite a lot of new bunches coming out in this bay, which is good. The guys have done a pretty good job this week, bagging and harvesting in here.

Dr. James Dale: Out of that came this one line of bananas that we can now call QCAV- 4. It’s genetically modified. It contains a banana gene and it’s essentially immune to Tropical Race 4. So this would be the first genetically- modified banana in the world.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: And you mentioned excitement. What was that moment like for you when the banana was successful? It’s funny to imagine a successful banana. I’m imagining a banana and like a little suit with a suitcase, it’s going to work. But yeah, what was that like for you?

Dr. James Dale: Well, people talk about light bulb moments. Every now and then You do have one, but this wasn’t a light bulb moment. This was a slow burn because it took really two years before we knew that we had something really, really fabulous. So this is our safety net. If the disease gets really bad in Australia, and it hasn’t yet, then we have a safety net.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: The cultivated Cavendish crop has a genomic trick that will help them resist the Panama TR4 disease. These advancements could help growers like Mark prevent or mitigate the devastating impacts of disease cutting its way through their livelihood and an essential food source for all of us. But even if we defeat this banana-shaped problem today, is there another one boomeranging back at us on the horizon?

So what does Dr. James Dale feel about our practice of monoculture and how to create a sustainable future of food production? I’m curious about what you think we should keep in mind when we’re making these decisions and potential sort of advancements in our world around food security and strengthening the crops that we already have. How do you feel like we should approach those sorts of questions?

Dr. James Dale: In my group, we have these sorts of discussions all the time. With food security, with what’s happening in the world now with climate change with, and it’s not only climate change, we know with incredible movement of humans around the world, we just exacerbate all the problems all the time. We’re going to need all the tools that are available to be able to generate varieties, cultivars of crops that can become more robust. That’s going to be things like drought tolerance, heat tolerance, water logging, all sorts of characteristics that aren’t necessarily in the gene pool of that crop, and that’s very important. We just need to be able to be very pragmatic.

The other really important thing is that we talked about bananas, there’s 300 different cultivars of bananas. The potential is very high to increase the diversity of bananas in the supermarket, and we’re starting that already. We’re actually working on Gros Michel at the same time and saying, ” Hey, let’s bring Gros Michel back, as well.” And it doesn’t shoot the lights out compared to Cavendish, but it’s a really good banana, but there others that are much better.

And to be able to bring those to the market and increase the biodiversity, I think is going to be really, really important. We always have this concern about monocultures, but we want cheap food. That’s the big conundrum. If you want cheap food, you’ve got to do it on an industrial scale. The reason bananas are cheap is because they’re growing on vast monocultures. I don’t think that’s going to change.

So I think this is some of the real challenges we have in the future, and we’ve got to really think very seriously about making sure we have the tools available to do those things, when new technologies come through, that we’re open to the very responsible use of those technologies to be able to make sure our crops remain resilient and to maintain that biodiversity. And that’s what we really need to do, we need to be able to maintain that biodiversity.

Producer Sean Holden: Kaylee, I’m just back from my delicious banana candy.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Well, welcome back.

Producer Sean Holden: So I actually want to round off by passing it back to you, Kaylee. What did you think of what we learned today? Is it Bananageddon or not?
Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah. As long as I have gone to the grocery store, there have been bananas, and it’s usually one of the more affordable fruits. And the idea that all of this is sort of happening behind the scenes to keep bananas accessible to me, that I can get it up here in Canada, is something that I don’t think about all that often, and that there’s this disease that could potentially mean that I don’t see those bananas there anymore. And so exciting to think about all the work that’s going on to keep bananas on our shelves, this banana battle against this disease, while at the same time recognizing that having access to more diverse fruits and keeping that diversity would also be really important for preventing this sort of thing happening again in the future.

Producer Sean Holden: I hear what you’re saying.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: Yeah? Oh, yeah, do you?

Producer Sean Holden: Yeah.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Can you hear it over the smacking of your own lips? What are you doing?

Producer Sean Holden: What?

Dr. Kaylee Byers: You enjoying your snack look?

Producer Sean Holden: Look, okay, minimum quantity is 100 grams, so I’m milking this audio as much as I can.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Good for you. Frugal, I like that about you.

Producer Sean Holden: Oh, thank you. And how else am I going to keep affording my five bananas a day anyways?

Band: (singing)

Dr. Kaylee Byers: Our guests for today were Dr. James Dale from the University of Queensland School of Biology and Environmental Science, Mark Smith, farm Manager at Darwin Fruit Farms. Also appearing on today’s episode are our producer Sean Holden and Jenny Cunningham. And a special thanks to all the folks who lent their culinary expertise to us.

You’ve been listening to Nice Genes, a podcast brought to you by Genome British Columbia. If you like this episode, go check out some of our previous ones wherever you listen from. Share us with your friends and leave us a review. You can also DM the show on Twitter by going to @ GenomeBC. And if you’re listening with kiddos or a teacher looking to spice up your lessons, we have learn- along activity sheets added to the show description of each episode.

Join us next time during LGBT History Month as our producer Sean Holden heads down under to get the down- low on two handsome penguins.

Producer Sean Holden: Okay. So then tell me a little bit for this last breeding season.

Emily Thornton: So gentoo penguins have a really elaborate courtship. One day, two penguins in our colony, their names are Klaus and Jones, Klaus and Jones are two males. They were starting to sing to each other. They were starting to bow to each other, and they were starting to show that courtship behavior that’s quite typical of gentoo penguins.

Dr. Kaylee Byers: We can’t plantain our excitement. Thanks a bunch for listening.

400–575 West 8th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V5Z 0C4 Canada

Host: Kaylee Byers
Creative Director: Jen Moss
Strategy: Roger Nairn
Producer: Sean Holden
Content Creator: Phoebe Melvin
Audio Engineer: Patrick Emile
Cover Art Designer: Amanda Di Genova

Genome BC respectfully acknowledges that our office space is located on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nations, the traditional custodians of these lands.

© 2000–2022 Genome British Columbia All rights reserved. | Terms of Use | Privacy