Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hey, Guess What? Bananas.

A few days ago, Jeff was discussing apples. I like bananas, so here's a list of the best banana varieties out there:

Best Banana for Eating:

Bananas. Umm, yeah, they're delicious. They're yellow, I guess? Sometimes I like to put them on cereal. Oh, also, they have no seeds. Actually, they may have seeds, but if they do, they're tiny and you can eat them. I guess that's it.

I'm pretty sure there aren't any other types of bananas.


Jeff said...

Not to rain on your banana parade ('cause I love bananas too), but there are actually hundreds of banana varieties. It's just that banana farms all over the world only grow one variety of banana at a time. The one banana we eat now is the Cavendish, and since every Cavendish is an exact genetic duplicate, it's really like we're all eating one banana.

We all used to eat a different banana called the Gros Michel until 1960, when a disease wiped them all out (it's easy for diseases to do this, since all bananas are twins with the exact same immune system). Apparently the Gros Michels were even tastier than the Cavendishes, but the Cavendishes were close enough that farmers around the globe accepted them as a replacement.

Now, the Cavendishes are under attack by a new disease, and it's likely that we won't be eating them for much longer. The big question is, will we end up eating a genetically modified Cavendish that's more impervious to disease, or will it be replaced by a new exciting banana?

I'm honestly fascinated by this.

(By the way, the Cavendish has Best Snooty Name pretty much locked down in the banana race.)

Alex said...

I don't know what made me more upset: That you knew that off-hand, or that you imploded my joke.

Nah, kidding, neither thing made me upset.

Jeff said...

I like to think of it less as "imploding your joke" than "providing such a density of information as to render everything around it unfunny."

Alex said...

Yeah, or otherwise known as causing it to implode.

Here's the definition of a Black Hole:

"A theoretical massive object, formed at the beginning of the universe or by the gravitational collapse of a star exploding as a supernova, whose gravitational field is so intense that no electromagnetic radiation can escape."

Essentially, you're saying that you provided a density of information. This density of information, would, by it's very nature, capture a large gravitational field, or, in this case, a huge field of seriousness.

This seriousness, by your own admission, rendered everything around it unfunny. If we take funniness to equal electromagnetic radiation, you essentially created a Black Hole of Comedy.

Implode, according to the dictionary, is:

"To collapse violently inward."

Sounds like what a Black Hole is doing, right? That's because it is. A Black Hole is a star that first EXplodes as a supernova, then IMplodes as a Black Hole.

So, ergo, by your own definition, you were "providing such a density of information as to render everything around it unfunny." Which we've established is creating a Black Hole of Comedy, which is imploding.

Your previous statement was a tautology.

Jeff said...

I like to think of it less as a "tautology" than a "redundant and unnecessary statement."

N K said...

When the Gros Michels started being wiped out in the 50's, there were massive banana shortages which led to the song "Yes, we have no bananas"

Murchie said...

Close, but the Cavendish was actually nowhere close to as tasty; just a lot more robust in large scale farming situations. (See for instance your wild vs. grocery store strawberries.)

Like how girls that are interesting and fun to be around also come with a whole lot more internal personal complexity that tends to make them unsuitable for concentrated storage or mass breeding situations as compared with less subtle and delightful ladies.

There is some hope that we may be able through Frankensteinish tinkering to produce a banana as tasty as the Gros Michel but with the handleability, growth rate, immune response, etc. as your Cavendish.

Though as a massive monoculture as Jerf mentioned, "immune response" is still a relative and foolish term. We're only beginning to learn that genetic diversity in a *population* is *itself* a desirable characteristic you must feed in to your optimization - that optimizing the plant itself is to fail to see the banana forest for the trees.

Ag school graduates do not get to engage in pedantry as much as anyone would like. Allow me this.

Jeff said...

Something I have yet to fully understand is why banana farmers only farm one major banana variety at any given time. Colin, can you help?

I'm guessing maybe the uniformity allows farmers to cultivate the appropriate soil/ground treatment for bananas at a lower expense? I'm really grasping at straws here...

Anonymous said...

Like there's only one kind of banana -- ha! Like "we're all eating one banana" -- ah ha ha! You guys are silly. Every banana is different and unique, with a distinct texture, flavor, and vitality.

I suppose you think all carrots are the same, too? Or that every glass of milk you drink tastes exactly alike. Well, I think you're mad!

Murchie said...

Jeff - think of it the other way around; not as an affirmative *choice* to pick one banana in order to have one banana, but rather *ending up* with one banana as a consequence of other decisions - in this case, a real focus on optimizing one plant for commercial properties. You do enough selective breeding, (let alone more active engineering) you end up with one genetically identical banana that you've optimized out of all recognition from the more diverse wild bananas.

Basically, you've traded away natural selection's benefits (heterogeneity and responsiveness to unforeseen stressors) in exchange for whatever you engineered into the one optimal banana.

This is starting to get reevaluated in agriculture the same way so many other fields are beginning to consider nonlinear, less single -product - focused optimizations - meteorology, economics, etc.

It could well be the resurgence of The Second Banana.