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Cavendish Bananas

A nasty and incurable fungus has spread through the banana-producing countries around the world, and it could be making its way straight toward banana heartland: Latin America, which produces 80 percent of the world’s exports, threatening to drive the most popular variety of banana to extinction. So scientists are focusing on building a better banana to withstand the fungal assault.

Bananas have reached such all-star status in the American diet that we now consume more of them than apples every year. Yet you’re probably used to seeing just one type of banana at your supermarket: the relatively bland yellow Cavendish. It has high yields, ships pretty well, and ripens slowly, making it appetizing to global food distributors.

Unfortunately, the popularity of the Cavendish might also be its downfall. A nasty and incurable fungus known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) has spread in Cavendish-producing countries around the world, and it could be making its way straight toward banana heartland: Latin America, which produces 80 percent of the world’s exports. For a paper published in November in the journal PLOS Pathogens, researchers confirmed that the version of TR4 afflicting bananas in different countries around the globe‚ including China, the Philippines, Jordan, Oman, and Australia, appears to come from a single clone. Ever since the fungus migrated from Asia and Australia into Africa and the Middle East starting in 2013, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has urged countries to step up their quarantining of sick plants. Yet the Pathogens paper confirms that these quarantines, seemingly the only prevention against the spread of the fungus, which can live in soil for up to 50 years, have mostly failed. “It indicates pretty strongly that we’ve been moving this thing around,” says professor James Dale, one of the world’s experts on bananas and the director of the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities. “It hasn’t just popped up out of the blue.”

The finding seems to confirm every banana grower’s worst fear: that the Cavendish will go down the same way our old favorite banana did. A century ago, Americans ate only Gros Michel bananas, said to have more complex flavor and a heartier composition than today’s Cavendish variety. Then, the monoculture fell prey to the fungal disease Tropical Race 1, or “Panama disease,” which wiped out the crop around the globe. There was nothing anything could do to stop it.

So this time around, rather than attack the fungus, scientists have shifted their efforts into building a better banana to withstand it. Dale’s research team, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has spent 12 years working on TR4. Three years ago, it started a trial on two very promising ideas: (1) inserting a TR4-resistant gene from a different wild banana species from Malaysia and Indonesia, musa acuminata malaccensis, into the Cavendish to create a fungus-resistant version of the popular variety and (2) turning off a gene in the Cavendish that follows directions from the fungus to kill its own cells. Dale says it’s too early to discuss the details of the trials, but the team is “very encouraged by the results” of the experiment with the wild malaccensis banana‚ which means the genetically engineered fruit seems to have successfully resisted TR4.

GMO haters would not be too happy about a rejiggered banana plant. Dale’s introduction of a different GM experiment in 2014, a vitamin-A-fortified banana meant to help deliver nutrients to impoverished Africans, was met with harsh criticism from the likes of Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, Friends of the Earth Africa, and Food and Water Watch. “There is no consensus that GM crops are safe for human consumption,” they wrote in a letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Regardless of where you land on GMOs, there is another option to consider: We could stop relying on Cavendish bananas. If you’ve ever tasted one of the dozens of small, sweet bananas that grow in regions like Central America and Southeast Asia, you probably aren’t terribly impressed with the United States’ doughy supermarket varieties. Belgium’s Bioversity International estimates that there are at least 500, but possibly twice as many, banana cultivars in the world, and about 75 wild species. The Ruhuvia Chichi of the Solomon Islands is sunset red and cucumber shaped; Inabaniko bananas from the Philippines grow fused together, giving them the name “Praying Hands”; Micronesia’s orange-fleshed Fe’i bananas are rich in beta-carotene. Elsewhere, you can find the Lady Finger banana, the Senorita, the Pink French, and the Blue Java.

But Dale doubts the global food industry will suddenly switch to one of these tempting fruits. “To change over to another variety would be quite challenging, because the growers and shippers have really been set up to use [the Cavendish] around the world.” And he points out, “Even if you did find a replacement, that’s not to say that in 20 years another disease wouldn’t come along and knock it over.”


Dubai Is Building The World’s First Temperature-Controlled City

Filed under: architecture,climate change,uae — admin @ 4:36 pm

By Beckett Mufson — Jul 8 2014

If anywhere in the world could use a bit of A/C, it’s definitely the desert-bound city of Dubai. Today it reached a high of 108?F–but Monday will top that by over ten degrees, according to The Weather Channel. We’re sweating just thinking about it. According to an announcement from Sheik Mohammad Bin Rashad, the city’s constitutional monarch, Dubai has a plan to let incoming tourists beat the heat for good: constructing the largest temperature-controlled city on the planet. Boldly entitled, The Mall of the World, the development plan will include over 20,000 hotel rooms, an indoor theme park, a hospital, theater district, and the largest shopping center in the world. A giant retractable glass dome will cover the Mall’s 48 million sqare foot chunk of Dubai, protecting visitors from the aforementioned 118? summer heat. This is almost like the Internet of Things applied to a sprawling metropolitan hub.

The Mall’s design takes inspiration from all over the world. One shop-lined street dubbed “The Celebration Walk” is similar to La Rambla in Barcelona, while another is based on the Oxford Street shops in London. It’s theater district looks eerily similar to Broadway in NYC.

These attractions are designed to host 180 million visitors per year–an ambitious plan. The Sheik is confident, however, in his city’s ability to sell, commenting, “The growth in family and retail tourism underpins the need to enhance Dubai’s tourism infrastructure as soon as possible. This project complements our plans to transform Dubai into a cultural, tourist and economic hub for the two billion people living in the region around us; and we are determined to achieve our vision.”

With Barcelona, London, and New York all bundled up into one, temperature-controlled desert oasis, The Mall of the World may have a lot to offer–but they’ll have to be careful not to make the same mistakes China has made with its Manhattan replica. Time will tell if Dubai if this tourism powerplay will be a success–but at least it’ll have A/C.


Sir Bu Nair

Filed under: global islands,tourism,uae,wildlife — admin @ 7:04 am

SHARJAH // An island’s delicate ecosystem has been declared a protected area and added to a global list of unspoilt wildlife habitats of international importance.

Sir Bu Nair, about 112 kilometres off the coast of Sharjah, is now covered by the Ramsar Convention, a treaty for the preservation of wetlands signed by the UAE in 2007.

The pearl-shaped island is the second area of Sharjah to be given protection, after Al Ghafiya mangroves in Kalba on the east coast.

Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, made Sir Bu Nair a nature reserve in 2000. It had been a camp for pearl divers.

“Sir Bu Nair certainly deserves its recognition as a wetland of international importance,” said Lew Youn, Ramsar’s senior regional adviser for Asia-Oceania. “Despite its relatively small size of just 1,300 hectares, the site supports a high level of biodiversity for the region.

“Forty coral species and 76 reef-fish species have been recorded, including seven coral species that are classified in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as being vulnerable.

“The island is an important nesting site for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and supports the regional breeding population of the sooty gull.”

Mr Youn said the designation of Sir Bu Nair as a Ramsar site would help to ensure its long-term conservation and provide international standards for its management.

Other areas covered by the convention include Ras Al Khor in Dubai, Wadi Wuraya National Park in Fujairah, and Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi.

Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority, said the protection of Sir Bu Nair had started with studies aimed at preserving its fragile environment.

She said the island, with its natural beauty and sandy beaches, and its cultural and historical importance, was now poised to develop into an eco-tourism centre. The authority is also working with Shurooq, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, to coordinate plans to attract visitors.

Marwan Al Sarkal, the director of Shurooq, said any tourism projects would allow people to visit the area without damaging its environment.

There are 2,169 Ramsar sites worldwide, making it the largest network of conservation areas in the world.

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