Genetically Modified Bananas: Africa’s Savior?

Bananas are a dietary staple in eastern Africa.  They are eaten raw, much like they are around the world, and they are eaten cooked (aka plantains).  In Uganda, plantains are served much like mashed potatoes are in North America and Western Europe; the cooked variety is called matoke.

Ugandan Transporting Plantains to Market

Ugandan Transporting Plantains to Market

Australian researchers, backed by a substantial contribution from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are preparing to start human trials on a genetically modified banana enriched with Vitamin A.  According to Time magazine (30 Jun 14):  “The new fruit could revolutionize child health care in the developing countries”:

  • Problem:  Vitamin A deficiency blinds some 300,000 children annually and is linked to the deaths of nearly 700,000 others.  The problem is particularly acute in east Africa.
  • Idea:  The Australians developed banana variants with up to five times the usual Vitamin A.
  • Pushback:  Critics of the project warn that the long-term effects of genetically modified food remains unknown.

The research team behind the project will complete the human trials by the end of the 2014 and hopes to receive approval to grow bananas in Uganda by 2020.  They add that their technology could also be applied to other crops.

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This entry was posted in food, Science, Social Justice, Technology, transhumanism, uganda. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Genetically Modified Bananas: Africa’s Savior?

  1. rogerdhansen says:

    According to an short article in Time magazine (Dec 1 & 8, 2014): “In sub-Saharan Africa, up to 30 percent of kids under age 5 are at risk of going blind–among other conditions–for one simple reason: they don’t get enough eye-nurturing vitamin A. But what if the bananas that make up a lot of their diet could be re-engineered to deliver it? That’s the idea that struck Australian biogeneticist James Dale when he visited Uganda in the early 2000s. With backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dale and his team began developing a vitamin-A-enriched “superbanana”; human trials start soon in the U.S. In Africa, they will be introduced using what Dale calls a “reverse Ponzi scheme” to spark adoption. Village leaders will be given 10 free superbanana plants to grow, on the condition that they give at least 20 new shoots to other villagers, who will do the same. “These bananas could potentially solve” a major health problem, Dale says.

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