Science

Golden banana may save many lives

Golden banana may save many li...
One of the golden bananas (top), along with a regular Cavendish banana
One of the golden bananas (top), along with a regular Cavendish banana
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Prof. James Dale has been working on the project for over 10 years
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Prof. James Dale has been working on the project for over 10 years
Field trials in Uganda
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Field trials in Uganda
One of the golden bananas (top), along with a regular Cavendish banana
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One of the golden bananas (top), along with a regular Cavendish banana

The East African Highland cooking banana is the major staple food in Uganda, harvested while still green then chopped and steamed. While it's a good source of starch, it has little in the way of micronutrients such as pro-vitamin A. Agricultural biotechnologist James Dale of the Queensland University of Technology decided to do something about it, and over the past decade has created a vitamin A-rich "golden banana."

According to Prof. Dale, it's been estimated that 650,000 to 700,000 children world-wide die from pro-vitamin A deficiency annually, with another 300,000 losing their sight. It is hoped that the golden banana could substantially reduce those numbers.

Prof. James Dale has been working on the project for over 10 years
Prof. James Dale has been working on the project for over 10 years

"What we've done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is naturally very high in pro-vitamin A but has small bunches, and inserted it into a Cavendish banana," says Dale. "Over the years, we've been able to develop a banana that has achieved excellent pro-vitamin A levels, hence the golden-orange rather than cream-coloured flesh."

So far, the bananas have been grown in the Australian state of Queensland, although the genes have recently been sent to Uganda and inserted into local banana varieties, for field trials taking place there. It is hoped that farmers may be able to start growing them on a large scale by around 2021.

A paper on the research was recently published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Source: Queensland University of Technology

4 comments
Ralf Biernacki
I suppose the banana, with its asexual purely-vegetative propagation, is an excellent subject for this kind of modding---especially when you consider that it cannot be improved the conventional way, by breeding. Kudos to prof. Dale!
aksdad
Great idea, but in the meantime, why not provide 1,000,000 kids with chewable Flintstones multi-vitamins? A year's supply per kid works out to $33 per year and prevents a host of vitamin-deficiency diseases including VAD. That's a paltry $33 million per year to save lives and prevent blindness. Surely the World Health Organization could divert some of their $4.4 billion annual budget to mitigate this tragedy. By the way, I have no connection to Flintstones Vitamins; just using their popular vitamins as an example. It could probably be done even cheaper than the $33 million I suggest.
George Saramas
Are you kidding me. Why should i eat 'golden bananas' when 10gr/day of carrots give enough Vit A alone. If i could improve something it would be more potassium and less calories from my bananas.
Stradric
@George: Well, for one, it's not about you or *your* bananas. Literally the first sentence in the article highlights why improving the nutritional value of the banana is important in this part of the world.