PMIL training gives researchers new tool for aflatoxin testing

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

Peanut researchers across Southern Africa now have a new tool to test for a deadly toxin that can contaminate crops, a tool delivered by the Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab in the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Peanuts – or groundnuts, as they are called in much of the world – pack some powerful nutrients, including protein that growing children need. In PMIL’s partner countries, the crop also is farmed and processed mostly by women, who use the proceeds to help with household expenses.

But groundnuts are susceptible to a kind of mold in the soil that produces aflatoxin, a chemical that can cause stunting in children and liver cancer from chronic exposure. At high enough concentration, aflatoxin can even kill people and livestock.

“It’s important to have an easy, reliable and affordable way to test for aflatoxin in peanut samples,” said PMIL Director Dave Hoisington. “A big part of what PMIL does as a Feed the Future program is to work with research partners in other countries to find solutions to yield gaps and mycotoxin contamination.

“It’s satisfying to see how enthusiastic our partners are to have this new tool. We are looking forward to seeing how it enables more research to happen faster.”

More than four dozen plant breeders, nutritionists and others attended training sessions PMIL held in Lusaka, Zambia, and Lilongwe, Malawi, to demonstrate the new testing system that uses a common electronic tablet to determine the aflatoxin level in a sample of peanuts.

PMIL is headquartered at UGA and funds the research of several Georgia peanut scientists, but also supports researchers at North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State University, the University of Florida and elsewhere who are working to ease hunger by increasing yield and fight disease in peanuts. The program also sponsors the education of dozens of students in Ghana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Haiti who are working to alleviate food insecurity in their countries.

While holding training sessions and meeting with PMIL partners in Ghana, as well as Zambia and Malawi, Hoisington and Assistant Director James Rhoads also equipped several of the scientists with all the equipment and supplies they need to perform the tests.

The scientists and students also reviewed the theory behind taking good samples. Since the mold that leads to aflatoxin may grow on only one or two seeds in a field, it’s important to draw a good sample to get an accurate reading.

The technology was developed by Colorado-based Mobile Assay and uses Neogen’s lateral flow strips and extraction protocols.

Because the system is portable and relatively inexpensive, it allows researchers to complete work without sending samples away for testing, in a sense taking the lab to the field or storage facility to look for patterns that lead to toxin in crops.

Attendees came from as far away as Uganda and Mozambique to participate in one of the two training sessions held February 24 and 25. The institutes represented included the University of Zambia and the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute in Zambia; the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Exagris Africa Ltd., Valid Nutrition, Afrinut, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Malawi; and the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute in Uganda.

Published March 03, 2016