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posted by LaminatorX on Thursday June 19 2014, @10:46AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Little-Eric-Volunteers dept.

Every year, vitamin A deficiency inflicts between 250,000 and 500,000 helpless and malnourished young people with early-life blindness and in half of those cases, it also brings death. Now the Washington Post reports that, backed by nearly $10 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, scientists are now working to genetically engineer "super" bananas that are fortified with crucial alpha- and beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. "There is very good evidence that vitamin A deficiency leads to an impaired immune system and can even have an impact on brain development," says James Dale. "Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food."

The Gates Foundation has a history of supporting GMO research and technology at least since 2010, when the non-profit invested in a low amount of shares in biotechnology giant Monsanto. Gates has amped up support for GMOs so that "poor countries that have the toughest time feeding their people have a process," adding that "there should be an open-mindedness, and if they can specifically prove [GMO] safety and benefits, foods should be approved, just like they are in middle-income countries." Such support has resulted in criticism and suspicion of the foundation's agenda. As for the worry that GMO seeds are increasingly consolidated in the hands of major agribusiness powers, Gates said in February 2013 after his foundation reportedly sold the approximately $23 million in Monsanto shares it owned that there are "legitimate issues, but solvable issues" with GMO technology and wider use. Gates added that one solution may be offering crops already patented but requiring no royalty dues.

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  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Horse With Stripes on Thursday June 19 2014, @10:51AM

    by Horse With Stripes (577) on Thursday June 19 2014, @10:51AM (#57351)

    Super Bananas? Weren't the early test versions of Super Bananas what caused Steve Ballmer to transform into a Kwyjibo [urbandictionary.com]?

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by Gaaark on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:04AM

      by Gaaark (41) on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:04AM (#57357) Journal

      Wow.... your fingers must have shifted over on the keyboard... it's spelled "Big Asshole", not Kwyjibo.

      That's okay... should have proof read it before submitting. I do the same thing myself. :)

      --
      --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:19PM (#57386)

      Yet another attempt by Bill Gates and his foundation trying to ape his betters ...

  • (Score: 2) by Dunbal on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:03AM

    by Dunbal (3515) on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:03AM (#57355)

    Aimed at poor countries - who mostly export bananas not eat them.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:05AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:05AM (#57358)

      Realllly. So whadda they eat? Dirt? Or is the dirt in their countries too valuable to eat because its being used to grow bananas.

    • (Score: 2) by Nerdanel on Thursday June 19 2014, @08:03PM

      by Nerdanel (3363) on Thursday June 19 2014, @08:03PM (#57591) Journal

      Bananas are a staple food in some tropical places of the world. People really do eat bananas for dinner like potatoes, but those bananas aren't the same as the dessert bananas that get exported.

      Some banana varieties are eaten cooked. [wikipedia.org]

      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Friday June 20 2014, @12:33AM

        by HiThere (866) on Friday June 20 2014, @12:33AM (#57698) Journal

        Sorry, but it's not that distinct. Bananas aren't Plantains. Both are staples of the diet in many countries.

        OTOH, while it's nice that the nutritional quality of bananas is being improved, what's really needed is a variety that's immune to the various fungi that tend to kill the plants. And since most bananas are clones of each other, if one is susceptible, then they all tend to be. There's currently a fungus spreading from country to country that is making bananas more and more difficult to grow, with it being a good chance that the currently most common variety will ALL be killed off. And this has happened before around 1930, when the then most popular banana strain was killed off by a newly evolved fungal variation.

        The problem is, the seeds go all down the center of the banana, so if you were to re-create it's ability to reproduce sexually, they bananas would be a lot less edible. (That would probably be doable, as I believe that there are wild strains still extant that *do* reproduce sexually. But nobody would want the result.) So the banana depends on people to create variation and spread varieties. And most of them are grown with a lot of fungicides...to which the fungus keeps evolving resistance.

        To me the ideal solution seems to be to modify the plants to reproduce sexually, but with an environmental trigger than can suppress the formation of seeds. This would, of course, be a major effort in biology. Perhaps Gates current effort is a step along the way to that. But given his history I wouldn't bet on anything so worthwhile. And my skepticism extends to wondering whether is separation from Monsanto is anything more than pro forma. This is, of course, unfair to him on my part, as I don't know how he could prove that he has reformed. But it is based upon his past deceitful actions, so it's not ungrounded. Being "fair" to someone like his is a way to get your head handed to you in a basket.

        --
        Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:03AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:03AM (#57356)

    Wake me when someone has invented a total nutritional replacement in a banana. I'm so very tired of eating food.

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by Aiwendil on Thursday June 19 2014, @01:43PM

      by Aiwendil (531) on Thursday June 19 2014, @01:43PM (#57409) Journal

      Wake me when someone has invented a total nutritional replacement in a banana. I'm so very tired of eating food.

      Soylent [soylentnews.org] is probably of interest then

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by hoochiecoochieman on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:15AM

    by hoochiecoochieman (4158) on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:15AM (#57362)

    Will I have to sign a EULA before eating one of these super-bananas? Will they be licensed to me? This means that, after I digest it and a part of it becomes a part of me, I myself will fall under the license, too?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:27AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:27AM (#57366)

      The EULA forbids you from installing more than one banana at a time, so you have to take a shit before eating another banana.

      • (Score: 2) by BsAtHome on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:51AM

        by BsAtHome (889) on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:51AM (#57374)

        That normally takes about three days, by which time the super banana magically returns in transformative form from opposite hole. You just need to put it back in the package and it is ready for another go.

        • (Score: 3, Funny) by jimshatt on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:10PM

          by jimshatt (978) on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:10PM (#57380) Journal
          The question is, will we be able to sell used bananas? Will there be Digestive Rights Management?
          • (Score: 2) by BsAtHome on Thursday June 19 2014, @01:24PM

            by BsAtHome (889) on Thursday June 19 2014, @01:24PM (#57405)

            It uses the Advanced Edibility Standard and Compost Recycling Computing to ensure Digestive Rights Management. Only licensed nutrients are released through the Tract Control Path/Ingredient Planner system with Unified Diarrhea Prevention messaging.

            • (Score: 3, Interesting) by fliptop on Thursday June 19 2014, @04:34PM

              by fliptop (1666) on Thursday June 19 2014, @04:34PM (#57487) Journal

              I think Soylent needs a mechanism for marking a whole thread funny all at once.

              --
              It's crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.
        • (Score: 1) by Ethanol-fueled on Thursday June 19 2014, @02:21PM

          by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Thursday June 19 2014, @02:21PM (#57427) Homepage

          Your momma likes my super-banana in all three of her holes.

    • (Score: 2) by Bot on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:32PM

      by Bot (3902) Subscriber Badge on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:32PM (#57668) Journal

      You hit something here, everything is about control. I don't think that the same system who made those country poor in the first place is going to save them. It is not about GMO vs organisms modified in other ways, it's about who can get his own seeds from his own field.

      --
      Account abandoned.
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by anyanka on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:12PM

    by anyanka (1381) on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:12PM (#57383)

    I'm not much in favour of GMO, mainly because of the whole Monsanto* evilness thing in combination with the danger of "leakage" into the natural environment. But with bananas being totally engineered anyway and not being capable of sexual reproduction, many of the downsides disappear. Particularly if Bill takes of the patent vs poverty issue as well.

    * Those guys will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

    • (Score: 1) by anyanka on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:15PM

      by anyanka (1381) on Thursday June 19 2014, @12:15PM (#57384)

      ...takes *care* of the patent...

      (and I thought I *did* press 'preview'...)

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @01:49PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @01:49PM (#57411)

    while it is nice that gmo for once is not used to make crops stand more poison or include poison, wouldn't it be easier to grow normal carrots instead?
    (especially bananas is a bad choice to grow more of... a more fragile species that needs more poison is hard to find)

    • (Score: 2) by TheLink on Thursday June 19 2014, @06:17PM

      by TheLink (332) on Thursday June 19 2014, @06:17PM (#57535) Journal

      Yeah or sweet potatoes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_potato#Cultivation [wikipedia.org]

      Bananas aren't that nutritious compared to sweet potatoes or potatoes, so what's the point of doing all that work modifying banana to have carotene when it's still going to be inferior to other crops in other nutrition stats, plus higher in sugar (not so healthy):
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1846/2 [self.com]
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2667/2 [self.com]
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2770/2 [self.com]

      Yield per hectare isn't really better than potatoes or sweet potatoes either.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @06:50PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @06:50PM (#57551)

        When you're suffering from malnourishment, higher sugar content isn't a concern. Also bananas are quite tasty when raw, I can't say the same for (sweet) potatoes.

      • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:45PM

        by Reziac (2489) on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:45PM (#57677) Homepage

        I expect it's a matter of what the climate and soil will support. Frex, potatoes are actually quite picky about their growing conditions, being intolerant of heat, drought, and poor drainage.

        • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Friday June 20 2014, @12:41AM

          by HiThere (866) on Friday June 20 2014, @12:41AM (#57702) Journal

          Yams, however, do quite well in the same areas that bananas do.

          If I trusted that the patents would be "dedicated to the public", however, I'd be all in favor of these new bananas. As it is...

          And that, in a nutshell, is my real objection to most GMO products. They are an intentional trap, intended to trap the weakest and most vulnerable in society. (So if the seeds were only sold to and enforced on other large corporations I'd have much less of a problem with them.)

          That said, I am skeptical about the inclusion of non-species specific poisons in plants. That I consider a danger no matter WHO the customer (or vendor) is. Poison resistance is something rather else.

          --
          Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
  • (Score: 0, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @02:06PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @02:06PM (#57417)

    If someone takes a spray-can to a non self-replicating wall then the police jumps in an makes an arrest for vandalism.
    on the other hand if you inject non native graffiti gens into some self-replicating plant that you can NEVER EVER wash off again then this is called "a good thing(tm). wow.
    matter of fact is that there are some super plants/fruits that grow just fine in same hemisphere as bananas that have tons of vitamin A. go figure.
    enjoy your eternal graffiti mr. gates.

  • (Score: 1) by PinkyGigglebrain on Thursday June 19 2014, @06:00PM

    by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Thursday June 19 2014, @06:00PM (#57525)
    "And he's buying a stairway to Heaven ..."

    That aside I remember all the hype about "golden rice", a GMO rice variant that contains beta carotene. It is licensed to subsistence farmers for free, for now, and there is still a lot of controversy about it from all the expected groups.

    This super banana is just going to be more of same. Some members of WHO say that teaching people to grow plants naturally high in vitamin A and providing supplements will do more to really help than "super plants".
    --
    "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @07:03PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19 2014, @07:03PM (#57563)

      buying a stairway to Heaven

      In case anyone needs to be reminded, what Gates knows is how to make profit with minimal effort via "intellectual property".
      The Gates Foundation is simply more of the same.

      If this was actually charitable work, at best his personal wealth would be remaining constant; it would NOT be increasing by billions.
      2012 - $7 billion [google.com]
      2013 - $15.8 billion [google.com]
      His "charitable foundation" is simply a tax dodge.

      Yeah, it bugs me that a legit not-for-profit like S/N has such a difficult time securing that legal status while Gates and his cronies get a free pass to make profit.

      -- gewg_

    • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:51PM

      by Reziac (2489) on Thursday June 19 2014, @11:51PM (#57685) Homepage

      "...there is still a lot of controversy about it from all the expected groups."

      Methinks your sig applies there as well.

  • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Friday June 20 2014, @04:36AM

    by SlimmPickens (1056) on Friday June 20 2014, @04:36AM (#57795)

    This kind of reminds me of when that German guy bred those giant rabbits [11points.com] to cure famine in North Korea and Kim Jong Il ate them for his birthday feast.