The pro-vitamin A banana nutrition study at Iowa State University

23 Feb 2016

There is a nutrition study planned in the US on a genetically-modified pro-vitamin A banana developed by the Banana21 project partners and grown in Australia. Nutrition researchers from Iowa State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition will conduct a study to determine the extent to which the pro- vitamin A in the banana is available to be absorbed and converted to vitamin A when eaten. They have conducted many nutritional studies and have unique experience and expertise in measuring minute amounts of these nutrients.

In pro-vitamin A-rich foods, such as carrots and spinach, only a fraction of the pro-vitamin A in the food is available to be absorbed and converted to vitamin A by the human body.  To predict the levels of pro-vitamin A in the bananas that will be effective in addressing vitamin A deficiency, scientists firs t need to learn the extent to which the pro-vitamin A in the bananas is released during digestion and made available to be absorbed and converted to vitamin A.

This study was reviewed by Iowa State University’s Institutional Biosafety Committee and also re viewed and approved by the University Institutional Review Board (IRB). The reviews and approval were based on information about the gene responsible for the increased levels of pro-vitamin A (which is also from a banana but a different type of banana), and the fact that pro-vitamin A in foods has a long history of safety. Prospective participants in the study receive a detailed informed consent form, as well as additional scientific information about the safety of genetically modified food, that was review ed and approved by the University IRB. Furthermore, the specific banana fruit to be utilized in the Iowa State study has been evaluated for food safety, with the conclusion that consuming this banana fruit would not pose a risk to human health.

The resu lts from this important study will be examined and used to guide our ongoing research to develop a pro-vitamin A cooking banana (matooke) at the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO) in Kawanda, Uganda . We will assess all of the pro-vitamin matooke we are developing there to ensure that our final product produces the appropriate level of pro-vitamin A needed to positively impact the nutritional status of women and children, who are known to be most vulnerable in Uganda.

The research on pro-vitamin A matooke at NARO is approved by the Government of Uganda and strictly regulated by its regulatory body, the National Biosafety Committee . Furthermore, once research is completed, perhaps in the next five years, the pro-vitamin A matooke would be thoroughly reviewed and authorized by regulatory bodies in Uganda before being available to our farmers and families.

The Ugandan Minister of Agriculture recently called upon Ugandan scientists to find new ways to apply agriculture to addressing important nutrition challenges in our country, and we are proud that the pro-vitamin A matooke research is supported and sponsored by the Government of Uganda. NARO and other project partners have consulted and will continue to engage parliamentarians, farmers, extension workers and community groups to explain our research, share our results and address concerns that are raised to us.

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