IELTS® Academic Reading Practice 69

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Disappearing Bananas

The bananas we know today all originate from Musa acuminata, a wild, spindly banana plant native to the South East Asian islands that make up modern-day Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The evolution of banana has been traced back to 10,000 years by agricultural experts. It has been at an evolutionary standstill ever since it was first propagated in the jungles of South-East Asia at the end of the last ice age.  Normally wild bananas produce tiny fruits filled with hard seeds that make the fruit virtually inedible. But now and then, hunter-gatherers must have discovered rare mutant plants that produced seedless, edible fruits. Genetics now know that most of these edible plants are mostly results of accidental mutation that gave their cells three copies of each chromosome instead of two. This alteration prevents seeds and pollen from developing normally, rendering the mutant plants sterile, which is why scientists believe the world’s famous fruit (banana) could disappear forever in 10 years’ time as it lacks the genetic capability to ward off pests and diseases that are in Central America, Africa and Asia.

The banana needs a pick-me-up fast. But science has so far let it down. For decades plant breeders have all but ignored it, because developing new varieties without the help of sexual reproduction is expensive and time-consuming. As a result, most people in the developed world eat just one variety. In some ways, the banana today resembles the potato before blight brought famine to Ireland a century and a half ago. But it holds a lesson for other crops, too, says Emile Frison of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain in Montpellier, France. Frison explains, “The state of banana can teach a broader lesson: the increasing requirements of food crops around the world is threatening their ability to adapt and survive.”

The unproductive hybrids were cultivated by the first men. They were planted by replanting their cuttings from their stem. And descendants of the results of those plantings are the bananas we eat today. Each is a virtual clone, almost devoid of genetic diversity. And that uniformity makes it ripe for disease like no other crop on Earth. Traditional varieties of sexually reproducing crops have always had a much broader genetic base, and the genes will recombine in new arrangements in each generation giving them enough resist the ability to fight pests and diseases. But that advantage is fading fast with the repeated plantation of high yielding varieties by planters. Plant breeders  work tirelessly to maintain the resistance of standardized crops because even yields of the most productive crop could just nose dive, so they have to keep everything in check at all times. Even the director of the Rome-based International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Geoff Hawtin says “When some pest or disease comes along, severe epidemics can occur.

Banana is an interesting case study. Until the 1950s, one variety, the Gros Michel, dominated the world’s commercial banana business. Found by French botanists in Asia in the 1820s, the Gros Michel was by all accounts a fine banana, richer and sweeter than today’s standard banana without the latter’s bitter aftertaste when green. But it was vulnerable to a soil fungus that produced a wilt known as Panama disease. “Once the fungus gets into the soil, it remains there for many years. There is nothing farmers can do. Even chemical spraying won’t get rid of it,” says Rodomiro Ortiz, director of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria. So, plantation owners played a running game, abandoning infested fields and moving to “clean” land - until they ran out of clean land in the 1950s and had to abandon the Gros Michel. Its successor, and still the reigning commercial king, is the Cavendish banana, a 19th- century British discovery from southern China. The Cavendish is resistant to Panama disease and, as a result, it literally saved the international banana industry. During the 1960s, it replaced the Gros Michel on supermarket shelves. If you buy a banana today, it is almost certainly a Cavendish. But even so, it is a minority in the world’s banana crop.

Banana is widely known and eaten daily. It is the largest producer of calories and over 500 million people depend on this crop. Although bananas might have resisted the Panama disease a greater resistance will be needed to withstand black Sigatoka disease. The Sigatoka disease which is also a fungal disease was first sighted in Fiji 1963. The black Sigatoka generates brown wounds on leaves causing premature ripening. It is also capable of cutting crops yield down to 40 per cent and also cutting the productivity lifetime of bananas from 30 to as short as 3 years. Planters keep the black Sigatoka in check by frequent chemical use, 40 as a basic number of chemical spraying annually. But diseases like black Sigatoka adapt to these fungicides. Frison says, “ as soon as you bring a new fungicide they develop resistance”. “One thing we can be sure of is that black Sigatoka won’t lose in this battle”. Some planters are unable to afford these fungicides, so, all they can do is watch their plants die. Brazil's leading banana pathologist with the government research EMBRAPA Luadir Gasparotto, says “Most of the banana fields in Amazonia have already being destroyed by the disease. Predicting a fall in production to 70 per cent, with an only option to find a new variety.

With most crops, such a threat would unleash an army of breeders, scouring the world for resistant relatives whose traits they can breed into commercial varieties. Not so with the banana. Because all edible varieties are sterile, bringing in new genetic traits to help cope with pests and diseases is nearly impossible. Nearly, but not totally. Very rarely, a sterile banana will experience a genetic accident that allows an almost normal seed to develop, giving breeders a tiny window for improvement. Breeders at the Honduran Foundation of Agricultural Research have tried to exploit this to create disease-resistant varieties. Further back-crossing with wild bananas yielded a new seedless banana resistant to both Sigatoka and Panama disease.

The results of the new hybrid are rather disheartening as western supermarkets and peasant farmers dislike it. Some say it tastes like an apple instead of a banana, causing planters to grow other plants avoiding banana. And the banana companies also abandoned the breeding effort and invested more assets on finding new fungicides. The Cavendish is still the only success for over 40 years in the breeding program. “It was quite expensive and we got nothing back, ” says Ronald Romero, head of research at Chiquita, one of the three biggest companies dominating the banana industry.

A global consortium of scientists led by Frison announced last year, plans to sequence the banana genome within five years. Being the first edible fruit sequenced. Well, almost edible. The association will be sequencing wild inedible bananas from East Asia because they are resistant to the fast-growing fungus, the black Sigatoka. Then the genes resisting black Sigatoka can be identified and processed in a laboratory tissue culture of cells from edible varieties. This can thereafter turn to new disease-resistant plants and further distributed to local farmers.

It sounds promising, but the big banana companies have, until now, refused to get involved in GM research for fear of alienating their customers. “Biotechnology is extremely expensive and there are serious questions about consumer acceptance,” says David McLaughlin, Chiquita’s senior director for environmental affairs. With scant funding from the companies, the banana genome researchers are focusing on the other end of the spectrum. Even if they can identify the crucial genes, they will be a long way from developing new varieties that smallholders will find suitable and affordable. But whatever biotechnology’s academic interest, it is the only hope for the banana. Without it, banana production worldwide will head into a tailspin. Preventing the extinction of the banana could be both a lifesaver for hungry and impoverished Africans and the most popular product on the world’s supermarket shelves.

The words “severe” and “epidemic” have the similar meaning to “serious” and “damage” respectively

From the text, we can understand that pest or disease can cause severe epidemics to banana industry.



This reading practice simulates one part of the IELTS Academic Reading test. You should spend about twenty minutes on it. Read the passage and answer questions 27-40.
Questions 27-32
Complete the table using the list of words, A-F, below.
  1. Ronald Romero
  2. Rodomiro Ortiz
  3. David McLaughlin
  4. Emile Frison
  5. Geoff Hawtin
  6. Luadir Gasparotto
Said by Statements
Emile Frison Lessons can be learned from bananas for other crops.
Consumers would not accept genetically modified crops.
The impact of fungal infection in soil is often long-lasting.
A banana disease has damaged a huge number of banana plantation
A pest invasion may seriously cause damages to banana industry.
Banana disease may develop resistance to sprayed chemicals.
A manufacturer gave up on breeding bananas for disease-resistant
Questions 33-39
Do the following statements agree with the information given in the reading passage? In boxes 33-39 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE   if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE   if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN   if there is no information on this.

33. The banana and the potato have a similar nutritional content.

34. The bananas that we commonly eat today have a strong natural immunity to infection.

35. Fungal disease is almost impossible to eradicate.

36. Modern supermarkets stock a wide range of banana varieties.

37. Black Sigatoka cuts fruit yields by 40% and drastically reduces the productive lifetime of bananas.

38. The black Sigotoka disease can be effectively combated by genetic modification.

39. The introduction of a new disease resistant banana proved unsuccessful.

Question 40
Complete the short answers below.

Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in 40-40 on your answer sheet.

40. Where was Banana first planted?




Answer Sheet
1
N/A
2
N/A
3
N/A
4
N/A
5
N/A
6
N/A
7
N/A
8
N/A
9
N/A
10
N/A
11
N/A
12
N/A
13
N/A
14
N/A
15
N/A
16
N/A
17
N/A
18
N/A
19
N/A
20
N/A
21
N/A
22
N/A
23
N/A
24
N/A
25
N/A
26
N/A
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40


Reading Passage Vocabulary
Disappearing Bananas


The bananas we know today all originate from Musa acuminata, a wild, spindly banana plant native to the South East Asian islands that make up modern-day Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The evolution of banana has been traced back to 10,000 years by agricultural experts. It has been at an evolutionary standstill ever since it was first propagated in the jungles of South-East Asia at the end of the last ice age.  Normally wild bananas produce tiny fruits filled with hard seeds that make the fruit virtually inedible. But now and then, hunter-gatherers must have discovered rare mutant plants that produced seedless, edible fruits. Genetics now know that most of these edible plants are mostly results of accidental mutation that gave their cells three copies of each chromosome instead of two. This alteration prevents seeds and pollen from developing normally, rendering the mutant plants sterile, which is why scientists believe the world’s famous fruit (banana) could disappear forever in 10 years’ time as it lacks the genetic capability to ward off pests and diseases that are in Central America, Africa and Asia.

The banana needs a pick-me-up fast. But science has so far let it down. For decades plant breeders have all but ignored it, because developing new varieties without the help of sexual reproduction is expensive and time-consuming. As a result, most people in the developed world eat just one variety. In some ways, the banana today resembles the potato before blight brought famine to Ireland a century and a half ago. But it holds a lesson for other crops, too, says Emile Frison of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain in Montpellier, France. Frison explains, “The state of banana can teach a broader lesson: the increasing requirements of food crops around the world is threatening their ability to adapt and survive.”

The unproductive hybrids were cultivated by the first men. They were planted by replanting their cuttings from their stem. And descendants of the results of those plantings are the bananas we eat today. Each is a virtual clone, almost devoid of genetic diversity. And that uniformity makes it ripe for disease like no other crop on Earth. Traditional varieties of sexually reproducing crops have always had a much broader genetic base, and the genes will recombine in new arrangements in each generation giving them enough resist the ability to fight pests and diseases. But that advantage is fading fast with the repeated plantation of high yielding varieties by planters. Plant breeders  work tirelessly to maintain the resistance of standardized crops because even yields of the most productive crop could just nose dive, so they have to keep everything in check at all times. Even the director of the Rome-based International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Geoff Hawtin says “When some pest or disease comes along, severe epidemics can occur.

Banana is an interesting case study. Until the 1950s, one variety, the Gros Michel, dominated the world’s commercial banana business. Found by French botanists in Asia in the 1820s, the Gros Michel was by all accounts a fine banana, richer and sweeter than today’s standard banana without the latter’s bitter aftertaste when green. But it was vulnerable to a soil fungus that produced a wilt known as Panama disease. “Once the fungus gets into the soil, it remains there for many years. There is nothing farmers can do. Even chemical spraying won’t get rid of it,” says Rodomiro Ortiz, director of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria. So, plantation owners played a running game, abandoning infested fields and moving to “clean” land - until they ran out of clean land in the 1950s and had to abandon the Gros Michel. Its successor, and still the reigning commercial king, is the Cavendish banana, a 19th- century British discovery from southern China. The Cavendish is resistant to Panama disease and, as a result, it literally saved the international banana industry. During the 1960s, it replaced the Gros Michel on supermarket shelves. If you buy a banana today, it is almost certainly a Cavendish. But even so, it is a minority in the world’s banana crop.

Banana is widely known and eaten daily. It is the largest producer of calories and over 500 million people depend on this crop. Although bananas might have resisted the Panama disease a greater resistance will be needed to withstand black Sigatoka disease. The Sigatoka disease which is also a fungal disease was first sighted in Fiji 1963. The black Sigatoka generates brown wounds on leaves causing premature ripening. It is also capable of cutting crops yield down to 40 per cent and also cutting the productivity lifetime of bananas from 30 to as short as 3 years. Planters keep the black Sigatoka in check by frequent chemical use, 40 as a basic number of chemical spraying annually. But diseases like black Sigatoka adapt to these fungicides. Frison says, “ as soon as you bring a new fungicide they develop resistance”. “One thing we can be sure of is that black Sigatoka won’t lose in this battle”. Some planters are unable to afford these fungicides, so, all they can do is watch their plants die. Brazil's leading banana pathologist with the government research EMBRAPA Luadir Gasparotto, says “Most of the banana fields in Amazonia have already being destroyed by the disease. Predicting a fall in production to 70 per cent, with an only option to find a new variety.

With most crops, such a threat would unleash an army of breeders, scouring the world for resistant relatives whose traits they can breed into commercial varieties. Not so with the banana. Because all edible varieties are sterile, bringing in new genetic traits to help cope with pests and diseases is nearly impossible. Nearly, but not totally. Very rarely, a sterile banana will experience a genetic accident that allows an almost normal seed to develop, giving breeders a tiny window for improvement. Breeders at the Honduran Foundation of Agricultural Research have tried to exploit this to create disease-resistant varieties. Further back-crossing with wild bananas yielded a new seedless banana resistant to both Sigatoka and Panama disease.

The results of the new hybrid are rather disheartening as western supermarkets and peasant farmers dislike it. Some say it tastes like an apple instead of a banana, causing planters to grow other plants avoiding banana. And the banana companies also abandoned the breeding effort and invested more assets on finding new fungicides. The Cavendish is still the only success for over 40 years in the breeding program. “It was quite expensive and we got nothing back, ” says Ronald Romero, head of research at Chiquita, one of the three biggest companies dominating the banana industry.

A global consortium of scientists led by Frison announced last year, plans to sequence the banana genome within five years. Being the first edible fruit sequenced. Well, almost edible. The association will be sequencing wild inedible bananas from East Asia because they are resistant to the fast-growing fungus, the black Sigatoka. Then the genes resisting black Sigatoka can be identified and processed in a laboratory tissue culture of cells from edible varieties. This can thereafter turn to new disease-resistant plants and further distributed to local farmers.

It sounds promising, but the big banana companies have, until now, refused to get involved in GM research for fear of alienating their customers. “Biotechnology is extremely expensive and there are serious questions about consumer acceptance,” says David McLaughlin, Chiquita’s senior director for environmental affairs. With scant funding from the companies, the banana genome researchers are focusing on the other end of the spectrum. Even if they can identify the crucial genes, they will be a long way from developing new varieties that smallholders will find suitable and affordable. But whatever biotechnology’s academic interest, it is the only hope for the banana. Without it, banana production worldwide will head into a tailspin. Preventing the extinction of the banana could be both a lifesaver for hungry and impoverished Africans and the most popular product on the world’s supermarket shelves.

The words “severe” and “epidemic” have the similar meaning to “serious” and “damage” respectively

From the text, we can understand that pest or disease can cause severe epidemics to banana industry.
 
IELTS Academic Reading Tips for Success
These are general tips that will appear on all reading questions.

Tips to improve your reading speed
To get a high score on the IELTS reading section, you need to have a fast reading speed. To have a fast reading speed, you need to improve your vocabulary and practice dissecting sentences. One strategy to dissect a sentence is to look for the subject and verb of the sentence. Finding the subject and verb will help you better understand the main idea of said sentence. Keep in mind, a common feature of a IELTS reading passage is to join strings of ideas to form long compound sentences. This produces large chunks that students have a hard time absorbing. Do not get overwhelmed by its length, just look for the subject and verb, the rest of the ideas will flow.


Keep in mind, having a slow reading speed makes skimming or scanning a reading passage more difficult. The process of quickly skimming through a reading passage for specific keywords or main ideas is a requirement for you to employ successful reading strategies to improve your IELTS reading score. In other words, skimming and scanning are critical skills to ensure you complete all questions in the allotted time frame.
IELTS Reading Strategies
Once you can read and comprehend a passage with a rate of, at least, 220 words per minute, you'll be ready to start implementing our strategies. All too often, students spend too much time reading the passages and not enough time answering the questions. Here is a step by step guide for tackling the reading section.

  1. Step 1: Read questions first

    One of the most common mistakes that candidates make when approaching the reading exam is reading every single word of the passages. Although you can practice for the exam by reading for pleasure, "reading blindly" (reading without any sense of what the questions will ask) will not do you any favors in the exam. Instead, it will hurt your chances for effectively managing your time and getting the best score.

    The main reason to read the questions first is because the type of question may determine what you read in the passage or how you read it. For example, some question types will call for the "skimming" technique, while others may call for the "scanning" technique.

    It is important to answer a set of questions that are of the same question type. You'll need to determine which question type you want to tackle first. A good strategy would be to start with the easier question type and move on to more difficult question types later. The Easiest question types are the ones where you spend less time reading. For example, the Matching Heading question type is an easier one because you only need to find the heading that best describes the main idea of a paragraph. An example of a difficult question type would be Identifying Information. For this question type, you'll need to read each paragraph to find out if each statement is TRUE, FALSE, or NOT GIVEN according to the passage.

    Here is a table that lists the difficulty levels for each question type. Use this table as a reference when choosing which question type you want to tackle first.


    Difficulty level Question Type
    Easy Sentence Completion
    Short answer
    Medium Matching Features
    Multiple choice
    Matching Headings
    Summary, Table, Flow-Chart Completion
    Difficult Matching Sentence Endings
    Matching Information
    Identifying Information (TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN)
    Identifying Viewer's claims (YES/NO/NOT GIVEN)

  2. Step 2: Read for an objective

    After you've read the questions for the passage, you will be able to read for an objective. What does this mean? For example, if you come across a question that includes the year "1896", you can make a note of when this year comes up in the text, using it to answer the question later on. There are two reading techniques that will help you stay on track with reading for an objective. The first one, skimming, is best defined as reading fast in order to get the "gist", or general idea, or a passage. With this technique, you are not stopping for any unfamiliar words or looking for specific details. The second technique, scanning, is best defined as reading for specific information. With this technique, you are not reading for the overall gist, but rather, specific information. Notice how each of these techniques has a specific objective in mind. This will help you find information more quickly.

  3. Step 3: Take notes

    As you're reading for an objective, you should also be making notes on the margins of the passage, placing stars next to key information, or underlining things that you believe will help you answer the various questions. This will make it easier for you to check back when you are asked certain things in the questions. Choose whichever note-taking system is right for you - just make sure you do it!

  4. Step 4: Answer wisely

    After you've read the questions, read the passage, and have taken any appropriate notes, you you should have located the part of the text where you where you need to read carefully. Then just read carefully and think critically to determine the correct answer.

IELTS Reading Question Types
 
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