Genetically modified food has been experimented with for years, yielding varying levels of success. However, genetically modified bananas have been tested on extensively and are now set to aid the hunger crisis in Africa, especially for infants and children. The “science food” is going to undergo human trials in the United States, Uganda, East and Southern Africa.
The genetically modified food was developed by Australian scientists. It is enriched with Vitamin A to combat the nutrition deficiency that leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, especially in children and infants. A lack of Vitamin A is also linked to childhood blindness. The Australian bioengineers hope that their product will be produced commercially in Uganda and Africa by 2020. The genetically modified food crop has increased levels of Vitamin A and beta-carotene.
The fruit is one in a series of genetically modified organisms from the Australian developers, along with a Vitamin A-producing strain of rice and a mosquito that can combat malaria. Some skeptics say that the long-term implications for the bioengineered food are unknown, and that low-tech solutions like improved farming practices and provision of supplements might be more apt and effective.
Professor James Dale, the lead of the genetically modified food project in Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, said that the bananas which grow in Uganda and East Africa have poor levels of key nutrients such as iron, beta-carotene, and Vitamin A. Subsequently, vitamin A deficiency leads to the deaths of 700,000 kids annually, and the blindness in 300,000 children.
Dale believes that genetically modified food that is set to aid hunger in Africa and Uganda is a huge step in the right direction of science and technology solving real world issues. He said that “good science” has amazing potential at enriching peoples’ lives and curing their hunger. The new variety of banana has an orange colored flesh instead of the traditional yellow, due to the increased levels of nutrients. Bananas in the region are generally cooked and steamed by the locals.
The researchers are supported by $10 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They have grown test varieties of their genetically modified food in Uganda, where 70 percent of of the population relies on bananas to provide them with nutrition. Approximately 10 kg of the “super” bananas is being sent to the United States for human testing. The researchers expect to have their results by the end of the year. They hope that the results of the experiments will convince Ugandan legislators to license the sale of the GM crop. Opponents of the technology cite that too much Vitamin A in one instance to a nutrient deficient populus could yield bad results, including increased developments of cancer.
Professor Dale believes that not only could the genetically modified food be set to aid hunger in Africa, but also anywhere where the people are underfed. Dale and his colleagues suggest that they can apply genetic modification to different types of fruit depending on what grows in the region. The bioengineer states that if the technology is fully embraced, it has the potential to alleviate hunger worldwide for generations.
By Andres Loubriel