Why and how fungus produce dangerous poisons that might contaminate food

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Why and how fungus produce dangerous poisons that might contaminate food

The consumption of food that has been contaminated with fungus can, at best, be an annoyance, and at worst, it can be fatal. However, recent study has shown that eliminating only one protein might leave certain fungal toxins powerless, which could be considered to be positive news for the safety of food.

Certain fungi are responsible for the production of poisonous substances known as mycotoxins. These chemicals not only cause food to become spoiled, such as grains, but they may also make people sick. People who are exposed to aflatoxins, which are one of the more harmful forms of mycotoxins, have an increased risk of developing liver cancer as well as other health issues.

Ozgür Bayram, a researcher who studies fungi at Maynooth University in Ireland, describes mold as a “silent threat” because most people are unaware that food like maize or wheat has gone bad.

Researchers have known for many years that some fungi are responsible for the production of these poisons; however, they were unaware of all the specifics. Now, Bayram and his colleagues have isolated a collection of proteins that are accountable for activating the formation of mycotoxins. According to the findings that were published in the edition of Nucleic Acids Research that was dated September 23, genetic engineering the fungus Aspergillus nidulans to delete even just one of the proteins is sufficient to stop the production of the toxins.

Felicia Wu, a food safety expert at Michigan State University in East Lansing who was not involved in the research, said that there is a long string of genes that is involved with the production of proteins that, in a cascading effect, will result in the production of different mycotoxins. There is a long string of genes that is involved with the production of proteins.

According to Bayram, the newly discovered proteins function much like the key that is used to start an automobile. The researchers intended to find a way to get rid of the key and stop the beginning signal from being transmitted, which would ensure that no toxins would be produced in the first place.

The proteins that make up A. nidulans were analyzed by Bayram and his colleagues, and the results showed that the key is composed of four different proteins working together. The scientists modified the genetic make-up of the fungus such that it would eliminate each protein in turn. According to the findings of the research team, mycotoxin ignition is prevented if any one of the four proteins is absent.

Deactivating the same group of proteins in the closely related fungus A. flavus, which is capable of producing aflatoxins, stops the generation of those toxins, according to Bayram’s findings from another work that has not yet been published. According to the researchers, this is a huge success since they see that the same protein complex does the same job in at least two fungi.

According to Wu, building upon a set of study that has been done over decades is what the current research is doing to prevent the contamination of food by fungi. The remediation of such contamination already makes use of a wide variety of strategies. According to Wu’s explanation, one approach for preventing contamination is to sprinkle harmless strains of A. flavus over fields of corn and peanuts. This is possible due to the fact that not all strains of A. flavus generate aflatoxins. These fungi reproduce quickly and have the potential to stop other harmful strains from establishing a foothold in the area.

Researchers are employing genetic engineering in a variety of different methods to attempt to battle the poisons found in food, and this research is just one of those approaches.  The newly discovered information may one day be put to use by genetically modifying a fungus that produces toxins and then applying it, for example, to agricultural crops or in other contexts. The researchers According to Bayram,we can virtually prevent aflatoxin contamination in food, for example, in the field, even in the warehouses, where a lot of contamination takes place. This statement was made in reference to the food industry.

It is believed that fungus and organisms similar to fungi that are known as water molds are responsible for destroying one third of the world’s food crops each year. Bayram predicts that the amount of food that might be saved if the contamination could be stopped would be sufficient to feed 800 million people in the year 2022.

According to Wu, the newly published research is an encouraging step in the right direction; but, it will continue to be a struggle to attempt to understand how this may be operationalized for agricultural objectives.  According to her, it is not certain how scalable the process is, and it may be difficult to persuade regulatory officials in the United States to accept the use of a genetically modified fungus on important food crops.


Betim Karahoda, Lakhansing Pardeshi, Mevlut Ulas, Zhiqiang Dong, Niranjan Shirgaonkar, Shuhui Guo, Fang Wang, Kaeling Tan, Özlem Sarikaya-Bayram, Ingo Bauer, Paul Dowling, Alastair B Fleming, Brandon T Pfannenstiel, Dianiris Luciano-Rosario, Harald Berger, Stefan Graessle, Mohamed M Alhussain, Joseph Strauss, Nancy P Keller, Koon Ho Wong, Özgür Bayram, The KdmB-EcoA-RpdA-SntB chromatin complex binds regulatory genes and coordinates fungal development with mycotoxin synthesis, Nucleic Acids Research, Volume 50, Issue 17, 23 September 2022, Pages 9797–9813, https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkac744

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