Genetically-Modified Orange Bananas Are Ready for Human Testing

Illustration for article titled Genetically-Modified Orange Bananas Are Ready for Human Testing

It's been nearly a decade in development, but a genetically modified breed of bananas that's designed to combat starvation will soon enter human testing. The bananas are rich in beta-carotene which turns into vitamin A in the body. For the children in Africa suffering from vitamin A deficiencies, this is a godsend. Also these banana are orange.

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The specific research is happening at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia thanks, in part, to nearly $10 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The idea, however, is to pass off little lab-grown super banana trees (since bananas don't have seeds) to farmers in Uganda, where there's a huge food shortage and 70 percent of the population survives on the fruit. Vitamin A deficiencies are not only killing children but also causing them to go blind, so the research moving forward is a very good thing.

Illustration for article titled Genetically-Modified Orange Bananas Are Ready for Human Testing
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These are no ordinary bananas. They're grown in far north Queensland to boost the beta-carotene levels. The flesh of the super bananas is also orange which provides a visual clue to their genetically-modified otherness. It's also sort of awesome.

This breakthrough is not entirely thanks to the possibilities of frankenfruit. A good old fashioned crossbreed of native banana with orange flesh in Micronesia called the "karat" has been used to improve eye sight in children for centuries. By the early 2000s, scientists in Queensland were exploring ways to cultivate the karat and, for whatever reason, decided to go the route of genetic modification.

Trials of the super bananas will take place in the United States and are expected to last through the end of the year. If all goes well—and the scientists are confident it will—Ugandan farmers will be growing the new bananas by 2020. "We know our science will work," says James Dale, who's led the research for years. And creepy as genetically modified foods may be, there's nothing quite like science that works. [Guardian]

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Image via Shutterstock, NIH

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DennyCraneDennyCraneDennyCrane
DennyCraneDennyCraneDennyCrane

Fun fact: Beta Carotene is so named because it was first isolated in Carrots, which are also the work of selective cross breeding. Originally carrots were purple, but selective breeding in the Netherlands turned them into an orange color to match their flag.

Also, the notion that vitamin A (and, by extention, carrots) is beneficial to eyesight is only somewhat true. Vitamin A deficiency can hinder your eyesight, but beyond that it has little effect. The persistent belief to the contrary started as a cover story in Great Britain to explain their consistent spotting of German aircraft, which in reality was a result of radar being developed.