The Gates Foundation has sunk $15 million into developing GMO ‘super bananas’ with high levels of pre-Vitamin A, writes Adam Breasley. But the project is using ‘stolen’ genes from a Micronesian banana cultivar. And what exactly is the point, when delicious, popular, nutritious ‘red bananas’ rich in caroteinoids are already grown around the tropics?
That provocative lede to an article in The Ecologist provoked a number of responses when I posted it on Facebook1. As not everyone can post comments there, and nobody at all can post comments at The Ecologist, I’ve decided to move the whole thing here.
A couple of comments were actually questions. Anastasia Bodnar asked: Are the existing red banana cultivars suitable for growing where this new variety is intended to be grown? And Sarah Hearne added: And do the red bananas have the same farmer/consumer acceptance in East African and beyond as existing varieties? Good questions all. And Alexandra Zum Felde addressed them, and more, in her comment:
Red bananas — at least ones like those in the photo, not Fe’i bananas — can and are grown where Cavendish are grown (so basically all over the tropics), though they — like many traditional cultivars — are not as productive as Cavendish bananas. But Cavendish are not the issues here — in Uganda the staple banana is Matooke (East African Highland Banana), of which over 180 cultivars exists … and all of which are pretty beta-carotene poor … but local leafy vegetables are full of (pro)vitamins! It would be easier and more cost-effective to re-vamp the image and attractiveness of traditional foods, than to introduce one single GMO variety.
So, are red bananas, whether traditional cultivars or the ones genetically engineered in an Australian lab, the wrong answer to the right question? Discuss.
- The link to the banana accession in question I’ve added myself, and for the record, I really cannot see how you can call its use biopiracy [↩]