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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 15, 2024
Sad banana

Ask Ms. Scientist: endangered bananas and hibernation

Dear Ms. Scientist,

Why are bananas currently in serious risk for extinction?

—Mike R.

Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is a threatening fungal disease in banana plants that has become widespread in Southeast Asia. The main variety, Cavendish bananas, has zero resistance against TR4 and no viable treatment exists to stop or slow the growth of the fungus into the plants’ roots, resulting in a black mush at the plants’ core. Furthermore, TR4 germinates by releasing highly environmentally resistant spores into the soil, where they can remain for decades, making it difficult to contain the plant parasite. The Cavendish banana is now the eighth most important food staple globally and fourth most important in developing countries. TR4 has yet to enter Latin America, but if it does, then the global food supply could take a serious hit.

Dear Ms. Scientist,

Why don’t animals get hungry when they hibernate?

—Mary T.

Hibernation can be a very deep state like in hedgehogs and ground squirrels, or a light and short state as seen in bears. However, across most hibernations, heart, breathing and metabolic rates as well as body temperature all decrease to extremely low levels (some bears breathe only once every 45 seconds during hibernation). Furthermore, animals gorge on food to increase fat reserves beforehand. Even though their stomachs are empty, their body is not deficient in energy requirements due to the slow burning of the energy stored. In effect, their nervous systems do not send off a “hunger signal” to wake them up from their sleep.

Ask Ms. Scientist is written by Corinne Thornton. If you have a burning science question you want her to answer, tweet @DC_Science or email it to

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