Aflatoxins, a poison produced by the Aspergillus fungus that grows naturally on food crops, is a hidden danger that is estimated to affect over 500 crore people globally. Daily intake of small doses could reduce immunity and stunt growth of children.
A team of international scientists, including from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), is now planning to introduce double defence approach to reduce the toxin levels.
In a paper published by ICRISAT, Kiran Sharma, Principal Scientist at ICRISAT said, “Using innovative biotechnology approaches, researchers have developed groundnuts free from aflatoxins.”
Once adopted by the farmers, this will also benefit those farmers who are growing growing maize, cotton, chillies and almonds, besides the groundnut farmers.
The toxin-producing moulds thrive in poor soils, droughts and damp storage conditions. 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.
An ICRISAT study 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.