A deadly fungus called TR4, short for Panama disease Tropical Race 4, is caused by the Fusarium oxysporum fungus and can live in the soil for up to 30 years -- making it especially difficult to eradicate. Fungicides also appear to be useless against it, leaving producers with few options.

James Dale, a professor of biotechnology at Queensland University of Technology, and his laboratory, introduced genes (a process known as transgenesis) from a subspecies of wild sweet bananas into a cultivar of banana called Cavendish, which makes up 95 percent of exported bananas globally.

On a related note, gmo apples that suppress browning are set to hit the shelves this fall in the US.

The banana we all know and love

The Cavendish cultivar is extremely susceptible to the TR4 blight and an epidemic would inflict colossal damage on major banana exporters. Dale’s new banana would behave, look, and taste like a Cavendish but would not be prone to TR4.

The $12 billion banana industry depends on the Cavendish cultivar which can last for weeks in cargo without rotting. It also appeals to consumers with its handsome yellow, curved fruit. The Cavendish cultivar is a monoculture which means that all of the Cavendish bananas are genetically identical. It rose to prominence because the Gros Michel cultivar in Central America was largely wiped out by another strain of Panama disease.

It must be stated to avoid any panic that bananas are in no danger of going extinct. There are hundreds and hundreds of wild strains that reproduce normally and thus preserve the genetic diversity to fend off diseases through natural selection. Many of them no doubt taste much better than the Cavendish, but, alas, many contain seeds and rot quicker, which makes them less palatable for exporters and consumers.

Potential savior

If, however, there is a serious outbreak in Latin America, Dale’s new bananas -- he and his lab produced six new strains, with four being immune to TR4 -- could swoop in and save the day. The disease has already hit Australia so that will be the first proving ground for the potential savior.

There are other possibilities should the Cavendish doomsday arrive.

The Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Research has cultivated several varieties of the Gros Michel that can produce seeds and one, the FHIA 17, that is resistant to the original Panama disease.

If this made you hungry and you want something healthy, check out this banana split recipe.