Lab-grown “super” bananas will save lives

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Uganda
Uganda’s location in Africa.

Bananas are a great way to eat healthy, since they are essentially packets of sugar, fiber, and nutrients wrapped in a convenient peel. These yellow fruits taste so good and inexpensive, less developed countries like Uganda in Africa use them as a staple ingredient in many of their main dishes. Now, researchers have modified banana genes (the blueprints for how something grows) to supercharge their nutritional value and save lives in Uganda.

See, there are thousands of Ugandans who do not get enough nutrients every day, especially vitamin A. Experts estimate that at least 600,000 children die as a result of malnutrition (insufficient nutrition) every year, and another 300,000 go blind, since vitamin A is essential for functional eyes. Even though bananas contain several vitamins, there are simply not enough to meet the nutritional needs of the human body.

To address the shortage of healthy food in Uganda, researchers enhanced the commonly eaten banana to have higher levels of alpha and beta carotene – chemicals the body converts into vitamin A. Even though the modified bananas have a strange orange tint, scientists say they are perfectly fine. In fact, the ultra-engineered fruit are making their way to the USA, where they can be studied further to determine whether or not they truly do raise vitamin A levels.

If all goes well, the modified bananas will be distributed to Uganda, and eventually other countries in need, like Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Image of Uganda map courtesy of University of Texas.