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Global banana crop under attack by deadly fungal strain

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The global banana crop is under attack by a strain of fungus that is threatening to wipe out the popular variety of bananas that many Americans eat, and possibly causing millions across the world to face hunger and starvation. The strain of Panama disease, called tropical race 4, or TR4, is attacking the most popular variety of banana; the Cavendish. Although there are over 1,000 varieties of bananas worldwide, the Cavendish accounts for 45 percent of the global crop. This fungal strain is specifically threatening to U.S. supplies of Cavendish bananas.

Originally thought to be resistant to the deadly fungal strain, reports from Sumatra and Malaysia in mid-2008 suggested that Cavendish-like cultivars may actually be vulnerable to Panama disease

So far, researchers have found the strain in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, but experts are worried that it could spread to Central and South America, where the U.S. gets its bananas. This deadly fungus has the potential to cause a worldwide economic problem if it continues to spread as bananas are grown in more than 150 countries worldwide and the banana industry is responsible for $8.9 billion in trade each year.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the fungal problem has gotten so bad and deadly for the fruit that countries that grow bananas have been warned to step up monitoring, reporting, and prevention in order to tackle what it calls "one of the world's most destructive banana diseases that threatens the income of millions of people."

Banana Shortage?
Banana Shortage? Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Banana Shortage?

Oranges and bananas are displayed for sale at a shop on April 1, 2014 in Northwich, United Kingdom, but a nasty fungus strain may put a shortage of the fruit on shelves across the world.

Athletes eat bananas
Athletes eat bananas Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images

Athletes eat bananas

Maria Balikoeva of Russia eats a banana on the 4th hole during round one of the World Ladies Championship at Mission Hills' Blackstone Course on March 7, 2014 in Hainan Island, China. Athletes may have to find another fruit to fuel up with if a nasty fungus strain causes a shortage of bananas worldwide.

Bananas as a source of energy
Bananas as a source of energy Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Bananas as a source of energy

Kevin Streelman of the USA eats a banana during day two of the World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne Golf Course on November 22, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. Athletes may have to find another fruit to fuel up with if a nasty fungus strain causes a shortage of bananas worldwide.