The fruits are bred to be rich in vitamin A.
Up to 750,000 kids around the world suffer from a vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to childhood blindness—and even worse, death in young children. But enjoying a vitamin A-rich banana—a commonly grown and eaten fruit in the world's poorest countries—could reduce those numbers. To combat the epidemic, a team of researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has developed a genetically modified banana farmers can easily grow in Uganda.
In fact, Ugandan farmers could grow the new fruit as soon as 2021, scientists say.
The research—which was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—has enhanced the vitamin A content already found in bananas, which is low, especially when cooked. "What we've done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is naturally very high in pro-vitamin A but has small bunches, and inserted it into a Cavendish banana," lead researcher James Dale says.
The nutrient-rich banana Dale and his team have developed looks a little different than the fruit you're used to finding in stores: it's golden-orange, not yellow, and it has about double the vitamin A content of a normal banana. (And that's a big deal.) Next, the researchers will help Ugandan farmers plant the new bananas for harvest by 2021, in the hopes the new crop can reduce incidents of illness across Africa.
"These elite genes have been sent to Uganda in test tubes where they have been inserted into Ugandan bananas for field trials there," Dale said. If all goes according to plan, kids would then be able to enjoy a fruit they're already used to while also getting on the right track toward a healthier life.