Public Release: 

Yes, we have bananas!

Society for Experimental Biology

UK Bioscientists are transferring GM knowledge and technology from the developed to the developing world to help fight future food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Howard Atkinson (University of Leeds) will report on a multi-national collaborative project for the first time at a landmark meeting at Rothamsted Research on Tuesday 13th October which will include 100 African speakers and delegates. The project aims to enable African scientists to develop, evaluate and later grow pest-resistant bananas.

"Instead of the much criticized approach of 'parachuting' GM crops into developing countries, we are creating a knowledge pipeline enabling African scientists to develop their own technology safely and securely. We aim to ensure African nations can develop their own solutions to the agricultural problems they define in the future", says Professor Atkinson. This will place the means of improved production into the hands of the poor through the efforts of African scientists.

Professor Atkinson and his research team recently ran a GM trial in the UK on potatoes which had been genetically modified to resist nematode attack. They conducted an environmental impact assessment to ensure that 'friendly' nematodes in the soil were not affected by the GM crop. They will transfer this methodology to Uganda where scientists at the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organisation will conduct their first confined field trials with a GM banana developed to resist nematode attack. If successful GM technology will be extended to provide resistance to further pests and diseases such as bacterial wilt, weevils and Black Sigatoka (a fungal disease). In the future, other crops could be improved to benefit African nations that support this approach.

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