Everything You Wanted To Know about the ‘GMO Banana’

Ever wondered how a banana tree reproduces if it doesn’t contain any seeds? Well, if you ever come across a banana tree growing in the wild, then chances are that these bananas will probably have seeds. In fact, the seeds make up most of the fruit and making the flesh hard to eat.

The bananas that we normally encounter are mostly of the Cavendish variety. They are seedless triploids that do not form mature seeds. The little black dots running through the middle of the banana are the immature seeds.

Commercial banana trees are generally reproduced by using banana pups instead of seeds. A banana tree forms rhizomes, which develop into a little tree/pup that can be removed and planted elsewhere. Every new banana plant has to be manually planted using a piece of existing banana roots.

Every Cavendish banana is the same. They are actually clones of a single banana. This homogeneity of species is very risky. If a disease infects the Cavendish, all could be affected very quickly. This has happened before!

Back to wild Bananas – Banana before GMO

Bananas were domesticated over 7,000 years ago. Wild bananas usually contain big, hard seeds and have a little amount of flesh. They have been selectively bred to have tiny, non-fertile seeds.

bananas-before-and-nowWithout using selective breeding, bananas would have been almost inedible!

Are GMO bananas the next “superfood”?

Scientists from the Queensland University of Technology have created bio-fortified bananas. These bananas have higher levels of Vitamin A. They are created using a technique that uses the existing banana DNA. So, it is knowns as a “genetically engineered organism” (GEO) rather than the more controversially named genetically modified organism (GMO). Visually, the only difference is that the flesh looks more orange-colored than white. But, why is there a need for a ‘super banana’?

In order to prevent Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) induced blindness and death among the millions of malnourished people. VAD is responsible for an estimated 500,000 cases of blindness and up to 2 million deaths each year, worldwide. Young children and pregnant women are more likely to be affected by it. This is especially devastating because VAD is one of the most easily cured illnesses, and is treated with a simple vitamin supplement.

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“Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food,” said the project leader, Professor James Dale.

The ‘super banana’ is set to start clinical trials in the U.S. soon. Scientists hope to start distributing it to African growers by 2020.

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