December 17, 2013

Well, there's always money in the banana stand...     Photo: Daniel D. Snyder

Global Banana Crop Doomed

Plague and insects threaten the fruit's future

Researchers around the world are expressing serious concerns over the future of everyone's favorite (frozen and chocolate-covered, preferably) source of potassium. Crops are being bombarded with wave after wave of plague insects and fungal infections, rendering vast swaths of bananas worthless or inedible.

Costa Rica, whose half-billion-dollar banana industry makes it one of the world's largest suppliers of the fruit, has declared a "national emergency," having now lost 20 percent of its produce this year.

Magda Gonzalez, director of Costa Rica's State Phytosanitary Services, blames the spike in afflictions on climate change, saying that warmer temperatures have boosted infectious insect populations. “I can tell you with near certainty that climate change is behind these pests,” she told The Tico Times.

Scientific American also has a report on a dangerous new strain of fungus, which, if left unchecked could combine with increased infestations to devastate the world's supply of bananas. Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense was supposedly limited to parts of Asia and Australia but has now been found in Jordan and Mozambique in a new, more dangerous form.

“It’s a gigantic problem,” says Rony Swennen of Tanzania's International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. "I will not be surprised if it pops up in Latin America in the near future.”

Latin America and the Caribbean currently account for more than 80 percent of the world's supply of bananas. Should the virus reach those shores, it could spell doom for the banana.


    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Big Sur Fire Burns 15 Homes

Blaze grows 50 acres overnight

Just when we thought wildfire season was over. A wildfire broke out in Big Sur yesterday, scorching 15 homes by evening and growing to 50 acres by this morning.

Since the fire started near Los Padres National Forest, between 50 and 100 people have been evacuated, ABC News reports. The blaze is only five percent contained. More than 500 firefighters from three agencies in the Monterey area and at least eight aircraft are battling the fire, SFGate reports. 

The unusually dry and windy conditions are major contributing factors, officials say. Mark Nunez of the U.S. Forest Service and incident commander for the fire described the burn as a "summer-type fire in December."

The Monterey area, which usually accumulates several inches of precipitation in the fall, has received less than a half-inch since July. "It's just bone dry out here," says Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller.


NFL gives $30 million grant to NIH to research TBI's.     Photo: Alexey Baskakov/Thinkstock

NFL Gives $30 Million to Study Traumatic Brain Injuries

Recipient National Institute of Health announces plans to study sports-related TBIs.

The National Institute of Health announced on Monday its strategy to use the NFL’s $30 million grant to research and answer many questions surrounding traumatic brain injuries in sports.

According to The New York Times, NIH plans to use the first $12 million to study chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease found in people with a history of multiple concussions. The research will focus on living patients, as previous CTE studies are mostly from autopsies, reports The Times.

Some $2 million will also be allocated to several institutions focused on concussions in young athletes. The rest of the grant is allocated for future studies.

“Everywhere I go now, what people want to know is, ‘Should my kid play football or hockey?’ ” Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told The Times. “What we don’t know is what the scope of the problem is… We don’t know if we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg, or the whole iceberg.”

For more on TBIs, see “After the Crash: A Closer Look at the Rising Incidence of Brain Injury,” in Outside’s December Issue.


A South China tiger in Shanghai Zoo.     Photo: J. Patrick Fischer/Wikimedia

Zookeeper Killed by Tiger

Mauled to death by highly endangered species

A rare South China tiger mauled a Shanghai zookeeper to death today after the 56-year-old man entered and began cleaning the animal's enclosure.

The incident happened at the zoo's breeding facility where the Associated Press reports that safety procedures are in place. The tiger was a 9-year-old male with no prior record of aggression.

It is believed the man, surnamed Zhou, forgot to close a gate when he entered the area. The Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau is investigating the incient, Shanghai Daily reports.

South China tigers have not been seen in the wild for more than 25 years. The World Wildlife Fund classifies the subspecies as functionally extinct: Even if few individuals remain in the wild, there is neither adequate habitat nor prey left for reintroduction.

Shanghai Zoo is one of China's largest and most popular urban animal parks.