GM Bananas: first harvest shows promise

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 18th March 2010

The first harvest of genetically modified bananas planted in Australia, in the South Johnstone area south of Cairns, has been picked.

The bananas are part of a project by Queensland University of Technology to improve the nutritional content of bananas, as a way of combating malnutrition in Africa, particularly in Uganda, where bananas are a staple food and very low in nutrients.

Initial results of the harvest show promise.  Professor James Dale, head of the project at QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, told ABC News that the initial results of testing on the biofortified Cavendish bananas were “exciting”.

“This first planting is demonstrating that at least one of the combinations of genes we’re putting is working really well for pro vitamin A, and we’re concentrating on that,” said Dale.

“But we’ve still got a lot of fruit to assess. The next lot will be particularly around iron and the accumulation of iron in the fruit.”

The project has a $5 million grant from the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Once the bio-fortified bananas are developed, it is hoped they will be grown in Uganda in collaboration with Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation.  The project then plans to expand to Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Cultivated bananas are generally unable to reproduce from seed, and must be grown from offshoots of a parent plant, meaning they are extremely low-risk for crop contamination by GM varieties.