Researchers Hope ‘Super Bananas’ Will Combat Vitamin A Deficiency

Fortified bananas to combat Vitamin A deficiency proposed for Uganda.

TIME

Genetically engineered bananas, packed with micronutrients, are to undergo their first human trial in the United States to test their ability to battle rampant vitamin A deficiency — a large cause of infant death and blindness throughout low-income communities around the world.

“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000 to 700,000 children worldwide dying … each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,” the project leader, Professor James Dale from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, told AFP.

The six-week trial backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation expects to have results by the end of the year and plans to have the bananas growing in Uganda by 2020.

Standard Ugandan bananas provide sustenance to East Africa but have low levels of nutrients such as iron and vitamin A. “Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with…

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2 responses to “Researchers Hope ‘Super Bananas’ Will Combat Vitamin A Deficiency

  1. I wrote about this GM banana http://argylesock.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/biofortified-gm-bananas/ It’s being promoted, very much as Golden Rice is promoted, with stories about Vitamin A deficiency. But Vitamin A is readily available from other foods, notably from orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables, which smallholders grow and trade. Also I’m concerned that this GM crop will focus too much investment on a few new varieties, at a cost to the banana diversity which is one of Uganda’s great strengths.

    • There were similar concerns about iron fortified bananas in India (and that project was blocked) and I would like to suggest this: yes, Vitamin A is available from other sources, clearly that is not being included in the diet otherwise the incidence of deficiency would be lower. From my experience in India, the greatest part of the food budget is spent on grains/cereals among the lowest income groups. Fruits and vegetables are consumed in negligible amounts, not enough to address a deficiency. Also, biodiversity is critical but even right now, there is one predominant variety of banana eaten all over the globe (Cavendish) but other varieties continue to exist. From what I have learnt, bananas are an integral part of the Ugandan diet so they would probably not disappear. On the plus side, if this delivers according to potential we would alleviate so much suffering! I think we should give it a try and not shut it down like Golden Rice.

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