The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are severe. It’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality. It is estimated up to 750,000 children die from a deficiency in vitamin A every year, with hundreds of thousands more going blind as a result.
Thanks to Distinguished Professor James Dale and his team of scientists from Queensland University of Technology, Australia, a bio modified banana has been developed that enhances pro-vitamin A in banana fruit. In fact, it doubles the essential vitamin in the genetically modified banana fruit.
“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 said. “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. “Our science works,” Professor Dale said, “and it’s technology that was developed here at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
The research, backed with close to $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ultimately aims to improve the nutritional content of bananas in Uganda, where the fruit is the major staple food in their daily diet. Vitamin deficiency prevalence in Uganda has increased from 20 percent in 2006 to 38 percent in 2011.
“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” according to Professor Dale.
He also said another really pleasing aspect of the project was the fact that young Ugandan students, who came to QUT to undertake their studies, had now completed their PhDs and were overseeing the research and field trials in Uganda.
Thanks to this new study, Ugandan farmers will be growing pro-vitamin A rich bananas in 2021.