doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.137 Published online 6 November 2017
Research led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad may now enable farmers to produce groundnuts free of aflatoxin – a poison produced by the pathogenic fungal species Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus that can cause serious effects on health, including liver cancer1.
The presence of aflatoxin in staple foods like maize and groundnut affects five billion people worldwide.
Now, using innovative biotechnology approaches, ICRISAT and its US partners have developed "a double defence line" by which the fungus is stopped from propagating and infecting the peanut and, at the same time, the groundnut seeds use gene-silencing RNA molecules to shut down the synthesis of aflatoxin by the fungus. Laboratory experiments showed that the "double defence" approach could essentially halt the fungal infection in the field itself.
The study could lead to significant reduction of aflatoxin contamination in farmers’ fields. The researchers say the approach could also apply to other important crops like maize, cotton seed, chillies, almonds and pistachios.
1. Sharma, K. K. et al. Peanuts that keep aflatoxin at bay: a threshold that matters. Plant Biotechnol. J. (2017) doi: 10.1111/pbi.12846