Bill Gates-Backed ‘Super’ Bananas Could Save Millions in Africa

The genetically modified bananas could help prevent vitamin A deficiency in the developing world.

(Photo:

(Photo: Flickr)

A genetically modified breed of bananas has been designed to combat starvation and will soon enter human testing. The super banana could “improve the lives of millions of people in Africa,” reports AFP.

Researchers from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology developed the bananas, packing the fruit with alpha and beta carotene that the body converts to vitamin A. Now, the bananas are about to undergo a six-week trial backed (with nearly $10 million) by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the U.S., which will test the fruit’s ability to fight vitamin A deficiency, a major cause of infant death and blindness in the developing world.

Prof. James Dale, the project’s leader, 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.” 

The researchers plan to have the bananas—which are normal-looking on the outside, but have orange-colored flesh—growing in Uganda by 2020. There’s a huge food shortage in Uganda and 70 percent of the population survives on the fruit. Bananas currently grown in Uganda provide sustenance to much of East Africa, but lack essential nutrients, including iron and vitamin A.

If all goes well, the same genetic modification could also be used on different staple crops, like plantains, impacting not just Uganda, but Rwanda, Kenya, and other parts of the continent.

[via AFP, Guardian]

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