Golden bananas boost vitamin A levels
With approximately 650,000–750,000 children worldwide dying from vitamin A deficiency, Professor James Dale from the Queensland University of Technology has been researching a way to enhance pro-vitamin A in bananas.
With approximately 650,000–750,000 children worldwide dying from vitamin A deficiency, Professor James Dale from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has been researching a way to enhance pro-vitamin A in bananas.
Over a decade-long period of laboratory tests and field trials in north Queensland, Dale found a selection of banana genes that could be genetically modified to enhance this vitamin. Their latest research findings have been published in Wiley’s Plant Biotechnology Journal.
This humanitarian project ultimately aims to improve nutritional health in Uganda, where bananas form a major part of their daily diet. In order to achieve this goal, it has received a strong injection of funding close to $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The East African Highland cooking banana is an excellent source of starch. It is harvested green then chopped and steamed. But it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron. The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are severe,” Dale explained.
Vitamin A is responsible for maintaining several important bodily functions such as vision, skin health and a healthy immune system. While deficiencies in vitamin A are not common in Australia, developing countries are often more effected and Dale suggested that several hundred thousand people go blind every year as a result.
“What we’ve done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is naturally very high in pro-vitamin A but has small bunches, and inserted it into a Cavendish banana,” Professor Dale said.
After testing hundreds of different genetic variations, Dale found one that could successfully increase vitamin A levels. Test tubes containing the ‘elite genes’ were then sent to Uganda for field trials. Over time, researchers have found that the ‘biofortified’ fruit has developed a golden-orange colour.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to develop a banana that has achieved excellent pro-vitamin A levels, hence the golden-orange rather than cream-coloured flesh.”
Not only would this be a nutritional success, but Dale also suggested that a positive outcome of the trial was the fact that young Ugandan students studying at QUT had completed their PhDs and were overseeing the research and field trials in Uganda. Should the field trials prove successful, researchers hope that by 2021, Ugandan farmers will be growing their own pro-vitamin A rich bananas.
Source: Food Processing
By Nichola Murphy