Banana vitamin research has led scientists to find a potential way to control an epidemic of vitamin A deficiency all over the world, but specifically in Uganda.
Scientists from Queensland University of Technology have genetically engineered bananas, packed full of micronutrients. These bananas, grown specifically in northern Queensland, are designed to increase the level of alpha- and beta-carotene taken into the body. Once in the body, both kinds of carotene are converted into vitamin A.
Many children throughout the world, especially in third world countries in East Africa like Uganda, suffer from vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency results in major consequences that people all over the world, including top scientific researchers, cannot easily ignore.
Professor James Dale from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology told AFP, “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.”
Regular bananas grown in Uganda and the surrounding countries are available to many children there, but the fruits are low in nutrients like vitamin A and iron. Specifically, vitamin A is needed to battle the epidemic of blindness and death affecting many children in Africa, from birth to six-years-old. This epidemic is easily preventable when families have access to nutritionally better food. It is the hope that this access can come from a super banana infused with the necessary nutrients needed to promote better health.
Professor James Dale added, “Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food.”
Large quantities of the banana fruits with orange flesh are being shipped to the United States for human trial testing. The six-week trial is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to Time. The foundation is reportedly spending $10 million on the trial.
Five Ugandan PhD students, along with their project leader Professor Dale, are working on the project. If the trial goes well, a genetically engineered banana would not be rare in Uganda by 2020. In fact, 70 percent of the people that depend on regular bananas in Uganda would have access to the nutritionally rich fruits grown by Ugandan farmers, according to Dale.The orange colored banana looks like a normal banana on the outside, but the banana is packed with vitamins that give the flesh its orange color.
The genetically engineered bananas have already been tested on Mongolian gerbils, and that testing was successful, according to The Guardian.
Once the newly improved banana vitamin fruits are approved to be grown in Uganda, countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania could begin growing their own crops.