Central Valley: Biological control of aflatoxins in pistachios to take off in California

Oct 13th, 2010 | By | Category: One Question, Student Work

Aflatoxin contamination in staple crops like maize is a huge problem in Africa. Earlier this year 2.3 million bags of maize in Kenya were declared unfit for human and animal consumption due to aflatoxin contamination. The solution might lie in biological control. Themis Michailides, a plant pathologist at the Kearney Agricultural Research Center, talks about a recent breakthrough in biological control of aflatoxins in pistachios in California. A similar experiment on maize in Nigeria has also succeeded.

story by Neelima Mahajan and Bernice Agyekwena

Ongoing research on biological control of aflatoxins in pistachios in California has proven successful with a reduction of 50 percent in aflatoxin infection rates in the second year of research. In the first year, infection was reduced by 10 percent and advance estimates suggest a reduction of 50 percent or more in the third year.

Biological control of aflatoxin in cotton seeds and peanuts is already going on in Arizona and other parts of the United States. This was revealed by Professor Themis Michailides, a Plant Pathologist at the University of California’s Kearney Agricultural Research Center, Fresno. He said biological control of aflatoxins in maize in Nigeria has been successful and the product was registered early this year and is currently in use. “We are hoping the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will grant registration for biological control of aflatoxins in pistachios to take off in the fields next year,” he said.

The rationale for biological control involves the use of extoxigenic aspergillus flavus and aspergillus parasiticus strains of fungi that do not produce aflatoxins to control the toxigenic strains that produce aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are forms of mycotoxins which are poisons produced by toxigenic fungi when they infect and feed on certain crops including pistachios, peanuts, maize, figs and cotton.
They are regarded as number one carcinogens and when ingested in small quantities accumulate in the body because they cannot be metabolized, causing liver cancer and yellowing of the eyeballs which eventually leads to death. However, consuming large quantities at one go leads to instant death.

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