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Scientists to save pregnant mother’s lives with bananas

New strains of bananas will be developed to address iron-deficiency anaemia in India, a major cause of maternal death during childbirth, after a Letter of Intent was signed at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) this week (March 8).

The agreement, signed by QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake and Dr Renu Swarup of India's Department of Biotechnology yesterday, sees the Indian government investing in the project over four years to generate bananas rich with iron.

Distinguished Professor James Dale, director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at QUT, will head the project, along with Dr Rakesh Tuli, who is the scientific program coordinator for India.

Professor Dale said iron-deficiency anaemia was common in India because many of the population were vegetarian and struggled to get enough iron in their normal diet.

"Iron-deficiency anaemia is a major problem for pregnant mothers, especially during child birth, and is one of the major causes of maternal death during child birth," Professor Dale said.

"Developing bananas, an important dietary component in India, to be iron-rich could really have a big impact on solving the problem of iron-deficiency anaemia."

Professor Dale said Indian scientists were so impressed with QUT's existing project to increase nutrients in bananas for Uganda, they asked the university to help develop iron-rich bananas for India.

He said QUT scientists would develop the technique to generate Australian bananas to be rich in iron and then transfer this technology to India so that Indian scientists could generate Indian banana cultivar rich in iron, while training Indian scientists in all aspects of this development.

"After the initial four-year development phase, it could take just another four to five years to prepare the bananas for release to Indian farmers," he said.

Dr Renu Swarup said the Indian government would be watching this research project with interest.

"This is the first such project in agriculture India has undertaken with another country. It means a lot to us," she said.

"Iron-deficiency is a problem for all developing countries, associated with low nutrition, not just vegetarianism.

"Bananas are one of the important foods, especially in the southern part of the country. They will play an important role in our effort to address iron-deficiency. "

The Letter of Intent was signed at Old Government House at QUT yesterday afternoon.

**A high-res photograph is available for media use.

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Media Contacts
- Alita Pashley, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1841 or alita.pashley@qut.edu.au
- Rachael Wilson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 9449 or rachael.wilson@qut.edu.au

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