• Question: Hello! I am currently working on the subject of a new species of banana wich is rich in iron. For now, it is just a project of some australian scientist. This species could save the lives of many pregnant women in poor countries. Is it difficult to create new food species ? Do you think this project can work ? Thank you for your time ! :)

    Asked by Paul to Andrew, Dilip, Emma, John, Ruth on 18 Nov 2015.
    • Photo: Emma Feeney

      Emma Feeney answered on 18 Nov 2015:

      Hello Paul, what an interesting project to be researching, I hadn’t heard of this until now! Yes, like many projects, it is difficult to get a plant to increase the production of a nutrient. In this project, the scientists may be trying to get the bananas to take up a new gene, or to up-regulate an existing gene.

      Not only can this be difficult to do, but, if they are successful, the new bananas may not be popular. Some people who are inherently opposed to genetically modified foods may not be willing to eat them, and even for those who are not opponents of GM foods, there could be be other issues.

      For example, increasing the iron content could affect sensory qualities such as the taste, which we know is one of the main factors in food choice.

      So while I think it is a brilliant idea and could definitely help to overcome some of the iron-deficiency problems in other countries, I do think they have quite a tough challenge ahead!!

    • Photo: John Gleeson

      John Gleeson answered on 18 Nov 2015:

      Wow this does sound interesting. Emma raised some awesome points. Iron can really effect the taste of something especially a banana which doesn’t have strong flavour naturally.

      It could potentially work but would be a long way off being used. Another alternative which is becoming increasingly popular for this is insects. For example Mopane caterpillars contain about 5 times more iron per gram of dry weight compared to beef. They are cheaper and easier to farm for developing countries and can be ground into powder to be put into their diet already such as sprinkle on a stew etc.

    • Photo: Andrew Quigley

      Andrew Quigley answered on 18 Nov 2015:

      I don’t actually have anything to add to this answer, John and Emma have covered all the bases really well!

      John, your knowledge of insects will never cease to amaze me! Have you ever had any? I still haven’t managed to have any of those curried crickets 🙂