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18th July 2017

Genetically modified bananas high in pro-vitamin A developed

Researchers have announced the development of a GM banana with higher levels of pro-vitamin A, which could improve the nutritional content of bananas in Africa.


gm bananas
Professor James Dale. Credit: QUT Media


Research by Queensland University of Technology has produced a golden-orange fleshed banana, rich in pro-vitamin A. The decade-long effort, led by Distinguished Professor James Dale, involved extensive laboratory tests at QUT, along with field trials in north Queensland. The results are published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

The genetic modification process had resulted in the identification and selection of banana genes that could be used to boost pro-vitamin A in bananas, Professor Dale said. The research, backed with $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Government's Department for International Development, ultimately aims to improve the nutritional content of bananas in Uganda, where the fruit is a major staple food in daily diets.

"The East African Highland cooking banana is an excellent source of starch. It is harvested green then chopped and steamed," Professor Dale said. "But it has low levels of micronutrients – particularly pro-vitamin A and iron. The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are severe."

Worldwide, up to 700,000 children die from pro-vitamin A deficiency each year, with a further several hundred thousand going blind, according to the latest available figures.

"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," Professor Dale explained. "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. Achieving these scientific results, along with their publication, is a major milestone in our quest to deliver a more nutritional diet to some of the poorest subsistence communities in Africa.

"We tried and tested hundreds of different genetic variations here in our lab and in field trials in Queensland until we got the best results. These elite genes have been sent to Uganda in test tubes, where they have been inserted into Ugandan bananas for field trials there."

If all goes according to plan, it is hoped that the new GM bananas could be used commercially in Uganda from 2021.




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