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Biotech Medicine Science

"Super Bananas" May Save Millions of Lives In Africa 396

schwit1 (797399) writes "A super-enriched genetically engineered banana will soon go through its first human trial, which will test its effect on vitamin A levels, Australian researchers said Monday. The project plans to have the special banana varieties — enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A — growing in Uganda by 2020. The bananas are now being sent to the United States, and it is expected that the six-week trial measuring how well they lift vitamin A levels in humans will begin soon."
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"Super Bananas" May Save Millions of Lives In Africa

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  • The science is great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @10:28AM (#47245647) Journal

    But who owns the patents? Or is this one a freebie?

  • by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @10:57AM (#47245941)

    Starvation rates are so low in the US you wont actually find an independently tracked stat for it. Im not sure anyone who starves in the US could be helped with any degree of government intervention.

  • by Ken_g6 ( 775014 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @10:58AM (#47245949) Homepage

    GMO Food is to Liberals as Global Warming is to Conservatives.

    I'm a Liberal, and I accept GMO food. But I'm also a Slashdotter, so what I can't accept is patented GMO food.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2014 @11:01AM (#47245979)

    It's because bananas without seeds are clonally propagated. It's not just monoculture, it's a single clonal organism. However, people tend to like them without seeds. Otherwise you go from peeling bananas to smashing them and frying them up (because uncooked is just too difficult to eat).

    It's ok, there's plenty of banana varieties out there and breeders are working on new varieties. You act as if this is something new, but almost all crops are genetically rotated on 10-20 year cycles (trees, like banana and apples, being the exception, as they have very long times to fruit and to breed).

  • by harvey the nerd ( 582806 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @11:06AM (#47246039)
    Beta carotene is only one of hundreds of carotenoids. We know that there are other carotenoids with important properties for human health e,g, lutein, lycopene, astaxanthin.

    Better to think of beta carotene as a marker in foods rather than a be-all, end-all carotenoid. Also balance with other oil soluble and anti-oxidant nutrients can be important.
  • Solves nothing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jurgen ( 14843 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @11:18AM (#47246161)

    So the "super" in these bananas is extra Vitamin A (alpha and beta carotene). But in general this solves nothing because those people who are Vitamin A deficient probably can't afford the bananas and/or don't have the resources to grow them... if they did they could just as easily grow (for example) Papayas which grow in the same conditions as Bananas and have more than enough beta carotene without any GM tricks. The problem is that both Bananas and Papayas need very fertile soil (or lots of fertilizer) and plenty of water to grow.

    The problem of Vitamin A dificiency may be real enough, but to really solve it you have to first look at the root of the problem. Why are people Vitamin A deficient? Were they always or is there something new happening? In Uganda for example I suspect that it's because people used to get their beta carotene from unprocessed red palm oil which they used to extract themselves and used for all their cooking, and now they are using processed cooking oils which are cheap enough that they just don't bother extracting their own oil anymore but which have all the beta carotene removed! So the problem was created by modern consumer society in the first place! The best solution here is just a bit of education, because the unprocessed red palm oil is probably still available and inexpensive and people have just gotten out the habit of using it. Just tell them to go back to frying their non-GM bananas in red palm oil instead of processed oil and they'll stop being Vitamin A deficient in no time.

    In general, people who eat traditional diets are rarely deficient in such important nutrients as Vitamin A unless they simply don't have enough to eat overall. But people are losing their traditional diets due to the relentless onslought of consumerism... for those populations the cheapest and most effective solution to Vitamin A deficiency is education and making sure traditional sources of beta carotine continue to be available. For those who are deficient because of extreme poverty the super bananas (or the golden rice, another frankenfood ultra-solution) solve nothing unless you give them away, in which case you can give away non-GM sources of beta carotene just as easily.

  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @12:03PM (#47246601)

    Well, when Africans go from subsistence to dying from overabundance of nutrients, we can move on to that problem.

  • by BronsCon ( 927697 ) <> on Monday June 16, 2014 @12:34PM (#47246917) Journal
    How about this, a compromise: You create a GMO strain of a plant, great, go ahead and patent it. If I replicate your patented strain and sell the seed, sue me. If I happen to be growing a similar plant, downwind of a neighboring farm that grows your strain, and the resultant seed from that contains some of the genetic material from your strain, then sue nature because I didn't do that shit.
  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @12:51PM (#47247043)

    Probably most if not all current GMO food crops do not damage human health.

    However, in the abstract, you are engineering (almost arbitrarily modifying) organisms capable of spontaneous reproduction and proliferation, so the level of precautionary principle needed is commensurate with "would it be ok if this escaped into the wild and took over ecosystem niches from more naturally evolved or incrementally bred crops / organisms? Do we have an accurate model of what would happen in that case? Have we tested enough to verify that model? And every case of a different manipulation or in a different organism is different so requires repetition of extensive testing."

    The types of risks there run the gamut from destruction of wild varieties and species by competition from the GMO. Substantial alteration of ecosystem by shifting the balance of successful and unsuccessful organisms. Proliferation of and reliance on a GMO monoculture which is then subject to rapid destruction from a single pathogen. etc. etc. Ecological system effects in other words. Very hard to test for.

    Again, it will probably be all be fine, until one day when it won't. When something unanticipated will happen and, well, the genie is out of the bottle and doesn't fit back in.

    At a minimum, GMO food should be labelled as such, and let people decide for themselves and vote with their pocketbook.

  • by BoberFett ( 127537 ) on Monday June 16, 2014 @01:12PM (#47247233)

    Then how do YOU know about it?

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.