Around the world, about 650, 000 to 700, 000 children die from pro-Vitamin A deficiency. Several hundred thousand more go blind. Other symptoms of deficiency can include delayed growth, infertility and dry skin.
Uganda is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. However, despite sustained poverty reduction, the proportion of the population that is food insecure has increased, and undernutrition in children remains a critical issue. Micronutrient deficiencies, including vitamin A and iron are highly prevalent in women and children.
In an attempt to help combat these figures, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology have genetically modified a type of banana that could help the many children in Uganda who have a pro-vitamin A deficiency.
Named the “golden bananas” for their vibrant appearance, the bananas were developed by scientists led by Professor James Dale, and the findings of the study were published in the Plant Biotechnical Journal.
The process involves modifying single banana cells, which then grow into banana embryos and germinate into plants. The process has been perfected over a period of twelve years, and involved significant laboratory tests and field trials in northern Queensland.
“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 in a statement.
“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.”
Ugandan scientists are now replicating the technique with local banana varieties. In Uganda, bananas are a staple food for rural communities. It is hopes that the new ‘golden banana’ will prove useful in helping to overcome the local communities’ micronutrient deficiencies.