A vitamin-enhanced ‘super-banana’ developed by scientists is to be tested on humans. The trials are to take place in the US over a six-week period. Researchers aim to start growing the fruit in Uganda by 2020.
The bananas are ‘super’ because they have been genetically engineered to have increased levels of vitamin A – a deficiency of which can be fatal.
Hundreds of thousands die annually worldwide from vitamin A deficiencies, while many others go blind, the project’s leader told AFP.
“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000-700,000 children worldwide dying…each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,” Professor James Dale stated.
“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,” Dale said.
The project was created by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We know our science will work,” Dale said. “We made all the constructs, the genes that went into bananas, and put them into bananas here at QUT.”
Dale added that the genetically modified banana flesh is more orange than a usual banana, but otherwise looks the same.
The highland or East African cooking banana is a dietary staple in East Africa, according to the researchers. However, it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly vitamin A and iron.
If the project is given the go-ahead for Uganda after the US trials, micronutrient enriched/modified crops could also be given the green light for Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
“In West Africa farmers grow plantain bananas and the same technology could easily be transferred to that variety as well,” Dale stated.