Aussie Bananas Could Save Lives

Scientists have genetically altered bananas to treat Vitamin A deficiency

Another reason to go NA-NAS for bananas.

A new banana with unusually golden flesh has been engineered by a team from Queensland University of Technology that is especially rich in pro-vitamin- A.  The experiment, led by Professor James Dale has been published in the Plant biotechnology Journal.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers hope to put their invention to good use in Uganda where farmers could be growing the golden bananas by 2021.

How does the golden banana save lives?

Researchers modify single banana cells which then grow into embryos, these embryos eventually germinate into fruit bearing plants. The final technique was perfected after 12 years of trials and tests in North Queensland. Scientists in Uganda, having been shown the technique, are attempting to create their own genetically enhanced golden bananas to be grown in Ugandan farms. Professor Dale explains the final technique:

"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, 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.”

For rural communities in Uganda, bananas are a staple food. Cooked bananas or plantains are an excellent source of starch but unfortunately, lack necessary vitamins and nutrients. It is estimated that 650,000 to 700,000 children die around the world from pro-Vitamin A deficiency every year. The new genetically enhanced “golden banana” will save thousands.

Achieving these scientific results along with their publication is a major milestone in our quest to deliver a more nutritional diet to some of the poorest subsistence communities in Africa.

Australians changing the world

Hunger and vitamin deficiency aren’t the only problems facing Uganda and the underdeveloped world. Places like Uganda suffer extensively from water contamination. Children and women can walk hours for water that is often dirty. The water collected is used for bathing, washing, cooking and drinking.  The dirty water will then require boiling at 90 degrees or higher to be able to drink. Bananas are boiled in this same water so several trips are required to collect enough water for cooking and drinking.

Australian graduate Mitch Horrocks from the University of Technology has devised a plan to allow Ugandan families to boil water for drinking while simultaneously cooking such staples as bananas. By use of his device known as the Okuchumba Amaizi. Made using sheet metal, the product can be created by the people in the village without the use of any electrical processes. Requiring only a hammer and a hard surface, a flat template can be formed into the final product with the guidance of a facilitator. It costs $1.50 to make and allows families to drink clean water.

Much like the growing of the golden bananas by Ugandan farmers, sourcing and making the Okuchumba Amaizi will require community involvement and production. The idea is to make the product a sustainable resource for families and a source of income for the community.

Both Aussie inventions, the golden banana and the Okuchumba Amaizi, are a step forward in ending the cycle of poverty in underdeveloped countries like Uganda

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