A SUPER BANANA genetically engineered to contain extra vitamins and help improve the lives of millions of people in Africa is to have its first human trial.
Researchers in Australia, who have been given almost $10 million (close to €7 million) by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have been working since 2005 on creating a banana enriched with pro-vitamin A.
While the banana looks like any other banana on the outside, the inside is a whole other story.
“The banana flesh… is orange rather than the cream colour we are used to and in fact, the greater the pro-vitamin A content the more orange the banana flesh becomes,” said Professor James Dale, who is leading the research.
The scientists say that the goal is to see farmers in Uganda growing the banana by around 2020.
People in many countries in East Africa use a cooking banana as a staple food, but it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly pro-Vitamin A and iron. It has been estimated that around 700,000 children every year die from pro-vitamin A deficiency with at least another 300,000 going blind.
“Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food,” said Professor Dale.
The bananas have already been harvested from a field at the Queensland University of Technology and will be transported to the US for the human trial, which will last for six weeks.
The results of the trial will be known by the end of the year.
“We know our science will work,” said Professor Dale. “We made all the constructs, the genes that went into bananas, and put them into bananas here at QUT.
“Hundreds of different permutations went into field trials up north and we tested everything to make sure our science worked here in Queensland.
“Now the really high-performing genes have been taken to Uganda and have been put into field trials there.”
Legislation to allow genetically modified crops to be commercialised in Uganda is currently at committee stage in the Ugandan parliament.