In a world first, Queensland University of Technology has developed a new, pro-vitamin A rich banana that’s set to help hundreds of thousands of undernourished children in Uganda and around the world. Research led by Professor James Dale and involving pHD candidates from Uganda has been ongoing for the past 10 years.
The new-and-improved, “biofortified” bananas are densely packed with Vitamin A which is important for many bodily functions including vision, skin health and the proper working of your immune system. Most Australians get enough of it, but deficiencies are common in developing countries.
The extra vitamin A content in the banana results in a golden-orange flesh (as opposed to regular, cream-coloured bananas). But these golden bananas are more than just easy on the eye – they’re expected to help as many as 750,000 worldwide suffering from pro-vitamin A deficiency annually. Many of these children are in Uganda, where bananas are a major diet staple. This is more than just a scientific breakthrough – it’s a humanitarian one, too.
“The East African Highland banana is an excellent source of starch,” says Professor Dale. “But it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron. What we’ve done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is natural very high in pro-vitamin A but has small bunches, and inserted it into a Cavendish banana” (the “everyday” banana you see at your local supermarket).
According to Professor Dale, the consequences of vitamin A deficiency are severe, including greater susceptibility to infection and even blindness. These new bananas, grown in field tests in north Queensland and in Uganda, are a huge step in the direction of alleviating vitamin A deficiency around the world.
The results of the research, which was supported by the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation, were published in Plant Biotechnology Journal. The researchers involved included Ugandan students studying at QUT, with some of them now overseeing field trials in Uganda.
“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,” Professor Dale says. “Our science works.”
Ugandans use bananas as the base for a variety of dishes, including Matooke (mashed plantain or banana in a sauce of peanuts, fresh fish or meat), banana pancakes (made with tapioca flour), and even banana wine, making them a perfect way to get more of the important viatmin into the diets of Ugandans.
To find out more about the QUT’s golden banana project, click here.