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GM bananas to boost health

A trial of GM bananas is underway in Australia, in a bid to boost the nutritional content of staple foods in developing nations

GM bananas to boost health

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The campaign is designed to improve the nutritional content of staple foods in developing countries, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

'"Micro-nutrient deficiencies are one of the major public health problems in developing countries," said the project's coordinator, James Dale from the Queensland University of Technology.

Genes from the essential micro-nutrient pro vitamin A, which the human body converts to vitamin A, were inserted into a single cell of a Cavendish banana plant, and researchers then planted the offshoots from the resulting plant.

Professor Dale said the GM banana programme was designed to help east-African countries like Uganda, where vitamin A deficiencies are common. Symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency include impaired vision and immunity, as well as respiratory and bladder conditions.

"Bananas are the staple food of Ugandans. They eat on average 1kg per person per day," professor Dale said, an amount that would provide around half the recommended daily amount of pro vitamin A.

The trial crop was planted last April and took around a year to grow, with around 25 bunches harvested so far, and although the GM bananas look and feel normal, the research group has not been allowed to taste them.

Producers of GM food in Australia operate under a license administered by the federal government and part of that license states the bananas cannot be consumed.

According to professor Dale, the risk that the GM bananas could mix with native species was very small.

"Bananas are sterile, their pollen is sterile so you can't grow them from seed," he noted. "You could grow a non-GM banana within a metre of a GM banana and the genes wouldn't move."

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