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.
"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.