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Genetically Modified 'Super Bananas' Could Prevent Blindness

First Posted: Jun 16, 2014 03:53 PM EDT

The 'super-banana,' a genetically modified fruit from Australia that contains increased levels of vitamin A, could help prevent thousands of Ugandan children from going blind and dying from Vitamin A deficiencies.  

Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology worked to engineer the product, grown near Innisfail, which is located just about 90km south of Cairns. The crop is currently on its way to Iowa State University in the United States for further trials that are funded by the Gates Foundation, costing about $10 million. The six-week trial will determine just how well vitamin A levels from the fruit will work in humans.

"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," said project leader Professor James Dale, of the university, according to a news release.

Dale has been working with five Ugandan PhD students on the nine-year project, where he said about 70 percent of the Ugandan population survives on bananas.

"The Highland or East African cooking banana, which is chopped and steamed, is a staple food of many East African nations, but it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron," Dale added. "We're aiming to increase the level of pro-vitamin A to a minimum level of 20 micrograms per gram dry weight."

The World Health Organization lists Vitamin A deficiency as one of the leading causes of preventable blindness, particularly among children in Africa.

If the 'super-banana' is successful, researchers believe that by 2020, it could also be transferred to other African countries, including Rwanda and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania.

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