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Bananas photo via Kurt Ransley
Bananas photo via Kurt Ransley

A grant of nearly $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation could revolutionize the lowly banana, turning the fruit into a more sufficient source of vitamin A in east African countries.

Call it the power of the plantain.

The banana is an important staple in many African countries, but because it lacks iron and Vitamin A, its heavy use can lead to health issues. As many as 700,000 children die each year due to vitamin A deficiency, with another 300,000 going blind.

James Dale, the director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, is setting out to change that with what is being dubbed a “super banana.”

James Dale
James Dale

He wrote in a message today that first human trials of the vitamin-A enriched banana will go into human trials in the U.S. very soon, with new genetically-altered banana expected to be grown in Uganda in 2025.

“The banana flesh of a pro-vitamin A-enriched banana is orange rather than the cream colour we are used to and in fact the greater the pro-vitamin A content the more orange the banana flesh becomes,” noted Dale in comments today. “We are aiming to increase the level of pro-vitamin A to a minimum level of 20 micrograms per gram dry weight in order to significantly improve the health status of African banana consumers.”

Typically, consumers in east Africa cook and steam bananas, an important staple.

Ugandan officials are currently weighing whether to permit genetically-modified crops, with regulations expected to take effect in 2020 allowing them.

“This project has the potential to have a huge positive impact on staple food products across much of Africa and in so doing lift the health and wellbeing of countless millions of people over generations,” said Dale.

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