‘Super-bananas’ close to commercialisation

By Nicola Cottam

- Last updated on GMT

Vitamin A fortified bananas could tackle nutritional deficiencies in Africa
Vitamin A fortified bananas could tackle nutritional deficiencies in Africa
The mass-production of so-called ‘super-bananas’ enriched with vitamin A may begin in Uganda as early as 2020 pending approval by the country’s legislators, according to the project’s lead scientist, James Dale.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) project is backed by $10m from the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation, and involves biofortification of bananas - one of the region’s main staple foods - to help reduce vitamin A and iron deficiencies in East Africa.

It offers a practical and long-term solution to the often life-threatening consequences of nutrient deficiencies, said Dale.

Fighting deficiencies

"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."

Around 650,000-700,000 children world-wide are dying as a result of vitamin A deficiency, explained Dale. This can lead to an impaired immune system and affects brain development.

"The Highland or East African cooking banana, which is chopped and steamed … has low levels of micronutrients particularly pro-vitamin A and iron.

We are aiming to increase the level of pro-vitamin A to a minimum of 20 micrograms per gram dry weight in order to significantly improve the health status of African banana consumers."

Elite’​ bananas

Initial laboratory tests on the bananas – which have orange-coloured flesh - were performed at QUT in Brisbane with field trials in far north Queensland, which were later extended to Uganda.

"Hundreds of different permutations went into field trials up north. Now the really high-performing genes have been taken to Uganda and have been put into field trials there," ​he said.

The next phase involves an ‘elite’​ breed of banana plants selected for a three year programme of multi-location field trials in Uganda which will run in tandem with six-week long independent human trials in the US.

Professor Dale explained the ultimate goal was to distribute plants free of charge to Ugandan farmers.

We have developed a strategy that should result in rapid dissemination in the target populations which really are the poorest of the poor.”

Millions will benefit

Once legislation on the mass-production of the GM bananas is ratified Professor Dale is confident the technology could be used to enrich crops across East Africa, including in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania.

"In West Africa farmers grow plantain bananas and the same technology could easily be transferred to that variety as well,"​ he said.

"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." 

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Why you should add chews to your VMS portfolio

Why you should add chews to your VMS portfolio

Catalent | 25-Jan-2023 | Insight Guide

In the supplement market there are several factors that impact the consumer experience, a critical one being the delivery format. Supplement users are...

Related suppliers


Enriched and Biofortification are standard terms

Posted by Aaron,

Thanks for your comments George.

This issue, like climate change, is being debated by an emotional side and a rational side. I think it's fair to say that you sit on the emotional side. I'd also add that it is perfectly valid and human to base decisions on emotion, rather than reason.

However, aspersions that GMO foods are created in secrecy and circumvent appropriate regulation are not helpful. They stifle public debate.

The article does actually state clearly in the third to last paragraph when the author states "... mass-production of the GM bananas".

This article is not a cover-up, as you suggest it is.

The other terms you question, "enriched" and "biofortification" are standard, and have specific definitions that are familiar to most who are involved in agriculture.

I agree that health and safety testing of all new foods is necessary.

I would like to ask everyone who reads this to articulate in their own mind why genetically modified foods need to satisfy health and safety requirements that traditionally breed new foods don't? How exactly are they different? What exactly are the risks and benefits of both? Where do GM foods currently exist? Are you personally aware of the data on their health and safety? Who funded that health and safety research?

If you can't answer all of these questions, you probably should find some independent sources of information that answer them in your own mind.

Or alternatively, admit that you are taking an emotional stand and that no facts will change your mind.

Report abuse

Peculiar use of the term "Enriched"

Posted by George Yaffe,

It's curious that this article never comes out and states these bananas are genetically modified. The term "enriched" typically applies to processed foods to which nutrients are added during manufacture, and thus its use here masks an important factor which may well be of great concern to regulators, farmers, processed food producers, markets and consumers.
"Biofortification" is another interesting term used to avoid identifying what's going on here.
This is another new GM crop, and as should be done with all GM crops, there should be long term health studies to assure there are no unintended attributes present besides the desired "biofortification".

Report abuse

Follow us


View more