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The Banana Is Dead? Long Live the Banana!
By Heath Shive
There are 1,000 varieties of bananas. The banana we eat in America is the Cavendish banana – the world’s most popular banana.
Dan Koeppel – author of the book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World – had a dire prediction. “There may be five or ten or thirty years left for our banana,” Koeppel wrote.
He wrote that 10 years ago.
Global banana production reached a record peak of 117 million metric tons in 2015, up from 68 million tons in 2000. Bananas are the world’s fourth most plentiful crop (after wheat, rice and corn).
So how is our doomed Cavendish banana doing now?
To the science!
The Cavendish Banana
Americans eat more Cavendish bananas than apples and oranges combined!
The Cavendish is the world’s favorite banana too. According to a FAO Report, Cavendish bananas make up 47 percent of global banana production – about 50 million metric tons every year!
The Cavendish banana has a magical mix of virtues. The Cavendish is more resilient than most bananas, which made it great for shipping. The Cavendish plant is shorter – so harvesting is easier and the plant more likely to survive tropical storm winds. And it is a big producer: on average, one hectare can produce 40 to 50 metric tons of fruit.
And it tastes great!
But once – according to legend – there was an even better banana.
The Gros Michel (“Big Mike”)
Before 1960, the Gros Michel (“Big Mike”) banana was the world’s favorite. You can see the Gros Michel in old movies and TV shows. Compared to the Cavendish, the Gros Michel was bigger, easier to ship, had a creamier texture, and the flavor was unbelievable!
But it wasn’t immune to the Panama disease – a soil-tainting fungus – which destroyed whole plantations.
By 1965, the Gros Michel had vanished from the world’s supermarkets.
The Cavendish was more resilient…until recently.
Trouble in Paradise
For two decades, Cavendish plantations have been struck down by a new variety of Panama disease called Tropical Race 4 (or TR4). There’s no cure. The fungus stays in the soil for decades.
No wonder Koeppel made his dire prediction.
And there didn’t seem to be a new banana variety that could take the Cavendish’s place.
The New Franken-Banana?
Koeppel did suggest – however reluctantly – a quicker solution. The Cavendish could be genetically modified to be more resistant to the new TR4 fungus. Genetically modified (GM) foods are unpopular globally, even banned in some countries. But Koeppel felt that there was no choice.
And behold, there’s a new GM Cavendish!
Last year, a group of scientists from Queensland University of Technology successfully created a stronger “transgenic” Cavendish. They spliced a gene from a TR4-resistant, wild banana species unto the Cavendish genome.
One line of GM Cavendish was disease-free for the 3 years of trials. And 3 other lines of GM Cavendish had a mortality rate of only 20% after 3 years. The normal Cavendish plants had a 67-100% mortality rate in the same time.
As bad as it sounds, losing the Cavendish wouldn’t be the end of America’s banana craving. Nature (and business) abhors a vacuum.
There are other sweet banana varieties in the world. For example, there are the Lakatan, the Latundan, and the Red Banana.
But I have loved the Cavendish my entire life. And there is no love quite like your first love.
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Koeppel, Dan. Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Hudson Street Press, 2008.
Queensland University of Technology. "Saving cavendish: Panama disease-resistant bananas." ScienceDaily, 15 November 2017.
Wasted Youth: The Science of ‘Young, Broke, & Horny’
My friends were talking about their lives – between the ages of 21 and 31 – when they were going to bars 4 times a week.
Their hard-earned money evaporated in a series of dates, dinners, and drinks! Then it was ramen noodles every day until payday.
Why are we so wasteful in youth?
Is it evolutionary psychology?
To the science!
Money Now or Later
In 2004, psychologists Margo Wilson and Martin Daly published a study that seemed to indicate that males are more reckless with money around ‘hot’ women. However, women are not so reckless around ‘hot’ men.
When humans ‘discount the future,’ we sacrifice future rewards for immediate gratification. Wilson and Daly assessed students’ monetary choices when comparing the desire for low-money rewards ($15-$35) ‘tomorrow’ against a higher reward ($50-$75) in the future.
The value of indifference (or monetary recklessness) was measured as value ‘k’ in the study. For example, it makes sense to sacrifice a chance at $50 in 6 months for a chance at $35 tomorrow (a low k-choice). But it’s more reckless if you sacrifice a chance at $75 next week just so you have a chance of $15 tomorrow (a high k-choice).
Suckers for a Pretty Face?
There were 200 students (96 male, 113 female). Each student was seated at a private computer and given 3 tasks: 1) a first set of monetary choices to set a k value, 2) a series of 12 images, and then 3) another set of monetary choices for another k value.
For half of the students, the images were either of ‘hot’ opposite-sex faces or ‘not-hot’ faces (lifted from HotorNot.com).
The other students saw images either of ‘hot’ cars or ‘not-hot’ cars.
Men’s k-value (monetary recklessness) escalated significantly after seeing ‘hot’ women! Men’s k-value didn’t change much at all after seeing ‘not-hot’ women.
Women’s k-value increased when they saw ‘hot’ men, but the “change was not significant.” And there wasn’t much of a k-value difference between women who saw ‘hot’ men versus ‘not-hot’ men.
The study’s men seemed to ‘discount the future’ (be more reckless with money) when ‘hot’ women entered their minds.
The study’s women seemed to maintain their monetary choices regardless of the attractiveness of men.
Oddly enough, women’s k-value did increase significantly…after they saw ‘hot’ cars!
Debt and Sex
In 2008, Daniel Kruger released a paper that showed that the more sexually active a man was – thus “successful” in evolutionary terms – the more likely he had large credit card debt. The group tested was comprised of men between the ages of 18 to 45, from different zip codes, incomes, and marital status. But the results were the same. The men who admitted to the largest number of sexual encounters also admitted to having the smallest savings and higher debt.
Someone who spends everything doesn’t have wealth, they have debt. But Kruger’s study showed that high financial consumption still signals wealth, and so is a successful mating strategy.
Did you waste your twenties? Most of us did!
It might have to do with youthful exuberance and lack of experience.
It might also have to do with how we are programmed on a genetic level.
But still...what a ride.
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Kruger, D.J. (2008). Male financial consumption is associated with higher mating intentions and mating success. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 603-612.
Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (2004). Do pretty women inspire men to discount the future? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271(Suppl 4), S177–S179.
Mother Nature Mostly Hates Men: Mortality Science!
By Heath Shive
Back in 2000, psychiatrist Sebastian Kraemer wrote a paper for The British Medical Journal entitled “The Fragile Male.” It created quite a stir.
Men have a shorter average life expectancy than women. But Kraemer thought a male was inherently more likely to die from the very beginning – even in his mother’s womb!
Kraemer argued that many obstetric maladies – perinatal diseases, deformities, stillbirths, etc. – afflicted males much more than females. At birth, the ratio of males to females is roughly 105 to 100. Kraemer believed that the ratio at conception started about 120 to 100 – and then Nature started to cull off males.
To the science!
But That Changed
Recently, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that fetal mortality isn't so simple.
The scientists analyzed 140,000 embryos (conceived by IVF or other technologies) in the first days after conception. Male embryos were more likely to be abnormal and so die a week or two after conception. At first, male mortality is higher.
But data from about 800,000 amniocentesis tests showed that between weeks 10-15 more female embryos are miscarried.
In the third trimester, male mortality rates accelerate.
But overall, female fetus mortality rates were slightly higher.
To be more specific, there would seem to be “different windows of vulnerability” for males and females during development.
Mortality by Gene-Based Behavior
After birth, male mortality rates exceed female rates – because of the consequences of risk-taking behavior. Evolutionary psychologists – like Glenn Geher and Scott Kaufman in their book Mating Intelligence Unleashed – believed that such risk-taking behaviors were intrinsic to men, written on their DNA, to display strength and virility to women.
Behaviors affect vulnerability to disease. Zhang et al (1995) showed men were more likely to die from most diseases (“total cardiovascular disease and cancer”).
In the U.S., homicide victims are 3 times more likely to be male than female. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide.
Whether from genes or gene-based behavior, from the womb to the tomb, men seem to be….more expendable to Nature.
According to a nursery rhyme, little boys are made of “snips and snails and puppy-dogs' tails.” Whatever men are made of…it’s perilous stuff.
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Kraemer S. (2000). The fragile male. British Medical Journal, 321, 1609–1612.
Geher, Glenn and Kaufman, Scott. Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Lawlor D., Ebrahim S., Smith G. (2001). Sex matters: Secular and geographical trends in sex difference in coronary heart disease mortality. British Medical Journal, 323, 541-545.
Orzack, Steven Hecht, J. William Stubblefield, Viatcheslav R. Akmaev, Pere Colls, Santiago Munné, Thomas Scholl, David Steinsaltz, and James E. Zuckerman. The human sex ratio from conception to birth. PNAS April 21, 2015. 112 (16) E2102-E2111
Zhang X., Sasaki S., Kesteloot H. (1995). The sex ratio of mortality and its secular trends. International Journal of Epidemiology, 24, 720-729.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.