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SCIENTISTS DEVELOP SUPER BANANA

A genetically engineered banana to increase the levels of vitamin A in the body and improve the lives of millions of people in Africa has been developed by Australian researchers. The banana will soon have its first human trial to test its effect on vitamin A levels, the Queensland-based researchers said today. The researchers have been able to bend the banana genome which was being tested on humans for the first time, the AAP news agency reported. The aim was to stop thousands of children in Uganda and the surrounding countries from going blind and dying from vitamin A deficiency, the report said. The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers engineered bananas grown in far north Queensland to increase the levels of beta-carotene. About 10 kilogrammess of the yellow fruit - with orange flesh - grown near Innisfail have just been shipped to Iowa State University, where the trials are being conducted. Five Ugandan PhD students were working with James Dale on the nine-year project, on which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent USD 10 million. Dale said that by 2020 vitamin A-enriched banana varieties will be grown by farmers in Uganda, where about 70 per cent of the population survive on the fruit. "The Highland or East African cooking banana, which is chopped and steamed, is a staple food of many East African nations, but it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron," Dale said. "We're aiming to increase the level of pro-vitamin A to a minimum level of 20 microgrammes per gram dry weight," he said. Dale said previous US trials using Mongolian gerbils had already proved successful on the bananas. When field trials in Uganda are in place, he said the same technology could be transferred to countries such as Rwanda and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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