The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are supporting the efforts of Queensland University of Technology scientists to design a better banana.
The researchers have already added provitamin A—a compound the body converts to Vitamin A—to the East African Highland banana. Now they are working to boost the iron content of the cooking banana that is a staple food of Uganda.
Led by Prof James Dale, director of University’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, the researchers are working with the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organisation to modify the bananas genetically to raise their micronutrient levels, and then develop disease-resistant strains to distribute to East African farmers. The research is being funded by a $10-million grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health Program.
James and his team developed efficient technology for raising nutrient levels in Cavendish bananas through to field trials in Queensland and then transferred it to Uganda. Ugandan scientists are now using these methods to modify East African Highland bananas genetically to increase their biosynthesis of provitamin A and their accumulation of iron.
Part of the project includes ensuring Ugandans will accept the new fruit, which has deep yellow flesh, thanks to the addition of the Vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene.