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Human trials planned for genetically-modified "super bananas"

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June 17, 2014

The super bananas are yellow on the outside (like the regular bananas seen here), but thei...

The super bananas are yellow on the outside (like the regular bananas seen here), but their flesh is orange with pro-vitamin A (Photo: Shutterstock)

According to the Queensland University of Technology's Prof. James Dale, 650,000 to 700,000 children die worldwide every year due to pro-vitamin A deficiency. Many of those children live in East African nations such as Uganda. Dale's proposed solution? Take something that's already grown and eaten there, and genetically modify it to produce the needed vitamin. That's what he's done with the Highland cooking banana. The resulting "super bananas" are about to be the subject of human nutritional trials in the US.

Prof. Dale and his colleagues started work on the project in 2005, backed by almost US$10 million in funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They chose the cooking banana due to the fact that it's already a key part of the diet in many East African nations, so an improvement in the banana should have a marked effect on the health of the population.

The super bananas were developed through a series of field trials in north Queensland, Australia. They look like regular yellow cooking bananas from the outside, but their flesh is orange in color – the more pro-vitamin A is present, the more orange they are. Dale hopes to ultimately get the vitamin level up to at least 20 micrograms per gram dry weight.

They have already been tested on Mongolian gerbils in the US, with promising results. In the upcoming trials, however, a group of human test subjects will be consuming them for a period of six weeks. The results should be determined by the end of the year.

In the meantime, the bananas are now being grown in field trials in Uganda. The aim is to identify "an elite line of banana plants" over the next three years, which could ultimately be grown not just in Uganda, but a variety of East African nations. The technology could conceivably also be applied to other related food crops, such as the plantain.

The university expects the Ugandan government to enact legislation allowing for the commercialization of genetically modified crops within six years.

Source: Queensland University of Technology

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
14 Comments

They have already been tested on Mongolian gerbils

wow!

zevulon
17th June, 2014 @ 02:18 pm PDT

Save humans with bananas.. great.. how about erasing the need for this kind of thing reducing food waste? How about those country's get the help they need instead of the millions wasted in wars?.. yeah .. how 'bout that...

Fábio Dias
17th June, 2014 @ 03:26 pm PDT

GMO bananas? Bad idea. When there is a LOT of money to be made, a company will lie and exaggerate about its qualities. Though the track record indicates that GMO's have not had positive results on any other wide-spread food. In fact, many adverse effects from regularly eating them. What makes you think that this GMO food will be any different?

Darin Selby
17th June, 2014 @ 07:20 pm PDT

@Darin Selby The article says they were developed with funding from the Gates Foundation, so I think it unlikely that the patents will be used for profit. Also, bananas, especially cooking bananas, aren't a staple of the Western diet, usually the Multinational Corporations that are desperate to use GMOs to tax our food choose things that are consumed by more people or wealthier populations so as to maximise profits.

Womp
18th June, 2014 @ 04:22 am PDT

More GMO poison supplied under the lie that it is doing some good. GMO golden rice with vitamin A has already proven to be a failure and rejected by the people they say need it. In the Philippines they rejected GMO golden rice. People have a free or almost free supply of malungay (Moringa) that is full of vitamins. They don't need GMO poison and all the problems that go with it. I bet the same applies in Africa. GMOs are soon going to be seen as the biggest food disaster the world has ever seen. They are already banned or labelled (which achieves the same thing) in 65 countries because they are so dangerous.

Skywoolf
18th June, 2014 @ 04:24 am PDT

Understand the scientists desire to do good but more GMO is something we don't need and don't understand well enough to call it safe. Not only that but the spread of the genes to non-GMO crops is unavoidable even if a farmer doesn't want them. Another Pandora's box!

MadMaxx
18th June, 2014 @ 06:48 am PDT

Some of the comments here are so full of ignorance. While I do not agree with the business practices of many GMO companies, GMOs and genetic engineering in general has done nothing but improve the lives of millions of people. There is no scientific evidence that GMO products are bad for your health.

Skipjack
18th June, 2014 @ 07:13 am PDT

I saw an interview with one of the people who helped create GMO food and his answer was something along the lines of "Without GMO there wouldn't be enough food to feed all the people in the world, to get rid of GMO we need 10% of the worlds population to volunteer to starve to death and I don't see that happening"

I think skepticism about GMO is healthy but when it comes to either eating GMO crops or having to die of malnutrition or starvation I would take my chances with GMO.

Daishi
18th June, 2014 @ 08:42 am PDT

This article misses one salient point: Virtually ALL bananas eaten in the United States (the Cavendish) are genetically modified and have been so since the 1920's. Bananas originated in Vietnam and South China around 7,000 years and have been constantly inbred ever since. The current Cavendish bananas (over 47% of all bananas produced worldwide) are all clones of a single highly inbred triploid. Because of this genetic modification, the current estimates are that, because of various diseases, that bananas as we know them, will cease to exist sometime in the next 10-20 years.

bobcat4424
18th June, 2014 @ 10:17 am PDT

@bobcat4424 I think you are partly confusing the difference between things like grafting and selective breeding with genetic engineering by actually rewriting the DNA of the object creating new recombinant DNA. That wasn't first done until 1973.

DNA is the source code of life and we are now able to directly alter it creating new forms of life. We have been experimenting with genetic modification to create mice that glow in the dark and fight cancer, one example are metabolic supermice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolic_supermice

Daishi
18th June, 2014 @ 04:33 pm PDT

MadMaxx: "...GMO...something we don't need and don't understand well enough to call it safe." Do you realize you just contradicted yourself? If we don't understand GMOs well enough, we need more research, not a rush to judgement that we don't need them. Considering the immense advancements in biology that lay before us, I am optimistic that research will yield benefits, more so than misuse by corps.

That said, I am boycotting GMOs because I don't trust corps to test well enough for safety. However, this Aussie lab is not a commercial enterprise, not that commercial is inherently bad, but it should be much more sensitive to harm over benefit in its testing.

Unscientific minds will always be suspicious and/or fearful of technology. They forget they probably wouldn't even be alive without it. Not to say that eternal vigilance is needed, but by scientists, not Luddites.

Don Duncan
18th June, 2014 @ 05:50 pm PDT

@Daishi

Well modifying some characteristics of any food is ok so long as it is not done the way Monsanto does. Wheat grown from Monsanto provided seed cannot germinate and the farmer becomes dependent on these GMO seeds for lifetime. Wait till the day when no naturally growing wheat variety survives in the world. Who do you think is going to be held hostage ? Have you read about the Canadian farmer who lost everything when spills from Monsanto seed carrying truck landed in his field and was sued under patent laws? There is a documentary floating around on the internet. Do look it up.

BTW pharmaceutical companies, who are probably in the top 5 lobbyists in the US are not interested in world population reduction. They are only interested in larger - and unhealthy - population worldwide to make more money.

pmshah
18th June, 2014 @ 07:24 pm PDT

LOL - from Queensland... they know a thing or two about introducing foreign biology... so how well did the cane toad work out for you guys then?

christopher
18th June, 2014 @ 10:53 pm PDT

This is terrible; the key point is left for the last paragraph in the reading:

"The university expects the Ugandan government to enact legislation allowing for the commercialization of genetically modified crops within six years."

The neighboring nation$ will do the $ame. Investor$ (ooops)... I mean donator$ know what is needed in order to generate ROI. Bananas, might once again be a place of interest in the market.

As for Children dying... enough said.

Carlo Che
19th June, 2014 @ 12:11 pm PDT
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