Icrisat finds way to combat aflatoxins in groundnuts

High levels of toxins impact immunity, stunts growth in children

Hyderabad, October 9

Aflatoxins, a poison produced by the Aspergillus fungus that grows naturally on food crops, is a hidden burden that is estimated to affect over 500 crore people. Daily intake of small doses could reduce immunity and stunt growth of children.

A new study by a team of international scientists, including from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), brings in a ray of hope. It talks of double defence approach to reduce the toxin levels.

“Using innovative biotechnology approaches, researchers have developed groundnuts free from aflatoxins,” Kiran Sharma, Principal Scientist at the Icrisat, and co-author of the publication, said.

This could mean a lot to farmers. Besides groundnut farmers,it will also benefit those growing maize, cotton, chillies and almonds.

Small protein lines

To boost the groundnut’s immunity against the fungus, researchers developed peanut lines that are able to produce small peptides known as defensins, that are often produced as immune responses to pathogens by some plants, animals and humans.

“By producing small proteins called defensins, these groundnuts can stop the deadly fungus from multiplying and infecting. At the same time, the groundnut seeds also emit gene-silencing RNA molecules to help shut down the synthesis of aflatoxin by the fungus,” he said.

Kiran Sharma points out that the toxin-producing moulds thrive in poor soils, droughts and damp storage conditions.

This means farmlands in the drylands are at a higher risk.

Health issues

An Icrisat study recently revealed that in southern India, aflatoxin levels in peanuts may be 40-times higher than allowed by Indian food safety limits.

“High level of aflatoxin ingestion could lead to numerous cancers, including the deadly liver cirrhosis which is on the rise and kills over 6,00,000 persons every year,” the institute said in a statement.

Icrisat researchers plan some extensive field tests with partners from Asian and African breeding programmes to cross these promising aflatoxin-resistant lines.

Published on October 09, 2017

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