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Are GMO Bananas on the Horizon?

January 14, 2015
Tony Leys of The Des Moines Register covered a recent story on the potential for GM bananas. While we provide a highlight of his article "Yes, we have no GMO bananas. For now.", we encourage you to read it in its entirety.

A plan to have Iowa State University students eat genetically modified bananas has been delayed, apparently because of issues in shipping the fruit.

The bananas, created by an Australian scientist, contain a gene that is supposed to help people living in Africa produce vitamin A. Proponents say the gene came from a different type of banana and is safe to eat. But opponents contend the trial could expose volunteers to unknown dangers.

An ISU scientist had planned to feed the bananas to a dozen students during last fall's semester. But that didn't happen, a university spokeswoman confirmed last month. The spokeswoman said she didn't know why the trial was delayed or when or whether it would resume.

James Dale, the Australian scientist who developed the bananas, said in an e-mail to The Des Moines Register this weekend that he still hopes to complete the trial by midyear.
"Importantly, the nutrition study will go forward, but not until all of us are satisfied that the banana material meets quality standards," he wrote. "As you might imagine, given how you see bananas ripen in your own home, it has been a challenge shipping bananas from Australia to the U.S. and having them arrive in good condition."

Iowa State researchers sent an e-mail to students last summer seeking a dozen female volunteers for the study. Food science professor Wendy White said then that the volunteers would be paid $900 to eat the equivalent of three bananas each as part of a short-term, prescribed diet. Just one of the bananas would be the genetically modified type. Blood tests would be used to determine the body's reaction.

White said more than 500 students responded to the query, and 12 were selected...

...White said the goal of her research is to help people in Africa increase their production of vitamin A. "In Uganda and other African countries, vitamin A deficiency is a major contributor to deaths in childhood from infectious diseases," she wrote in a statement released by the university in July. "Wouldn't it be great if these bananas could prevent preschool kids from dying from diarrhea, malaria or measles?"

The scientist said the new type of banana includes a gene taken from another banana species, which naturally produces large amounts of beta-carotene. When people eat beta-carotene, their bodies turn it into vitamin A...

Iowa State University has said that before the trial begins, details of how it would be conducted would be posted on a federal website, As of Monday, the trial was not registered there.