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December 20th, 2017 / Wall Street Journal, US

In June, a team of European researchers traveled to Papua New Guinea on a mission of global significance. They came to search for the Giant Banana plant.

The scientists traveled through the jungles of the South Pacific nation, by car and on foot, accompanied by two armed guards. They were tantalized by images circulating online, purportedly taken by locals, that depict a towering banana corm, several stories high, with leaves about 5 yards long.

The researchers found plenty of unusual banana varieties, but their quest to find the Giant, and to sample its bounty, proved fruitless. “We were all really disappointed,” said Julie Sardos, a French scientist for Bioversity International, a global research institute.

Scientists around the world are rushing to find and develop new types of bananas, driven in part by a potential crisis in the supply of the Cavendish—the variety commonly found in supermarkets around the world. Bananas are one of the world’s most popular fruits, including in the U.S., which imports $2.3 billion worth each year.

The Cavendish is under threat of extinction from a fungal disease that is spreading across the world, killing the plants that bear the fruit. Cavendish bananas are seedless, so their plants are genetic clones, making them vulnerable to disease. Read more