Study: groundnuts can be made immune to aflatoxin-producing molds

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could train our crops to be resistant to molds that produce mycotoxins, pests and other concerns? Well, scientists are working on that. And they’ve had some success.

Researchers have recently developed groundnuts that can halt the growth of molds that create aflatoxin by producing proteins called defensins that stop the propagation of mold. The team took defensin genes from other plants and transferred them to the nuts. Not only that, but the groundnut seeds can also emit “gene-silencing RNA molecules” that stop the mold from producing aflatoxin in the first place.

Seeds developed by the researchers were directly exposed to molds that produce aflatoxin, including Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, for three days. The seeds were then tested to contain less than one part per billion (ppb) of aflatoxin, compared to over 3,000 ppb measured in seeds without the double-defense treatment.

“We have analyzed the way the fungus propagates through pods in the groundnut,” said Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, lead author of the study. “By looking at what exists in nature, we then devised biotechnology tools to develop groundnuts that are immune to pre-harvest Aspergillus infection, and are also able to block aflatoxin production in the field as well as under post-harvest storage.”

Hopefully, the research will help reduce the number of crops each year that are discarded or consumed despite containing a toxin. Continual aflatoxin exposure may cause liver cancer, stunted childhood growth and other serious health concerns in some parts of the world. It’s possible that the aflatoxin-blocking technique can be applied to other crops that are used for human food and animal feed, like grains and other nuts.

The research was conducted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Louisiana State University and Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Aflatoxins are one of the most potent and dangerous groups of mycotoxins. They affect primarily corn, tree nuts, cottonseed, peanuts and milo. As a carcinogen, aflatoxin can cause a variety of serious health problems for both humans and animals. The toxin threatens food supplies especially in Africa and Asia, but authorities around the globe regulate for specific levels that are allowed to be present in food.

For information on Neogen’s numerous rapid tests for aflatoxin, click here.

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