21st December 2011

Bill and Melinda Gates have paid a visit to Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers working on a banana biofortification project which aims to improve the production and nutritional value of bananas in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Gates met with Distinguished Professor James Dale and his team, whose research they have backed with close to $10 million of funding over the past seven years through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health program.

"Bananas are a major staple food crop in Africa," Professor Dale said.

"Micronutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency anemia, are huge public health problems in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to mortality, blindness, impaired immune function and brain development."

Field trials in Innisfail led by QUT have produced bananas with far greater amounts of pro-vitamin A than regular bananas.

"This technology has already been transferred to Ugandan research partners at the National Agricultural Research Organisation of Uganda, where the bananas are already in a field trial," Professor Dale said.

He said that Bill and Melinda Gates wanted to meet with the QUT team while visiting Australia so they could learn more about the aims and the progress of this research.

"The Gates had a huge amount of prior knowledge, and asked some very sophisticated questions. They were both so interested in learning about what we were doing," he said.

"The Gates were also very interested in the disease resistance component of our research, some of which is also funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"We have generated Lady finger bananas with near immunity to a disease called Fusarium wilt race 1 which is common in all banana-growing countries.

"It was a tremendous privilege for the five of us involved in the project to meet with the Gates and experience in person their commitment and enthusiasm."

Media contact: Michaela Ryan, QUT media officer, 07 3138 4494 or michaela.ryan@qut.edu.au

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