Bill Gates-funded super bananas ready for human testing

Genetically modified bananas loaded with vitamin A are scheduled to go into human trials in the US with the aim of improving nutrition in Africa.

Ugandan bananas
This is what a normal bunch of Ugandan bananas looks like.Wikistallion

Most people don't give bananas a second thought. Slice 'em up and put them on your cereal. Flambe them for dessert. Have one for a snack. James Dale, however, has dedicated years of thought, research, and development into creating a better banana.

Dale is the director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. He has been working on creating pro-vitamin A-enriched bananas since 2005. "Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food," Dale said in a statement on Monday.

There is a big visual clue these bananas are different. They look the same on the outside, but the flesh is more orange than pale as a result of high vitamin A. Unlike the bananas we are used to in the US, these plantains are always cooked before being eaten. The banana is a common staple food, but it's lacking in micronutrients like vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiencies have been linked to weakened immune systems and blindness.

"We know our science will work. We made all the constructs, the genes that went into bananas, and put them into bananas here at QUT. Hundreds of different permutations went into field trials up north and we tested everything to make sure our science worked here in Queensland," Dale said.

Prior to human consumption, the bananas were successfully and safely eaten by Mongolian gerbils. The bananas destined to be eaten by people were grown in Queensland and shipped to the US. The trial will take place over six weeks, with results revealed by the end of 2014.

The human trials are a big step toward the ultimate goal of getting the bananas into the hands of consumers. Dale hopes Ugandan farmers will be growing the modified bananas by 2020. The research has been funded by nearly $10 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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About the author

Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET's Crave blog. When not wallowing in weird gadgets and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.

 

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