Photo: Reuters
New York - Scientists have developed a new method to neutralise a dangerous fungal toxin affecting crops that can lead to cancer, childhood stunting and other health threats.

Researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) said they had created a genetically modified maize plant that is edible even when infected with a mould that produces aflatoxin, a carcinogenic substance.

About 16 million tons of maize, equivalent to almost the total output of South Africa, is thrown out each year worldwide due to contamination, as even small amounts can make an entire harvest unsafe for consumption.

In developed countries, commercial crops are screened for aflatoxin. But in many parts of the developing world contaminated food often ends up on the plate, as crops are not tested. “People are unfortunately consuming unknown and dangerous levels of these toxins pretty much on a daily basis,” said Monica Schmidt, assistant professor at UA’s School of Plant Sciences. The problem is heightened during droughts as the fungus spreads more easily among stressed crops.

Schmidt and her team said they had created a genetically engineered maize plant, which produces a “Trojan horse” molecule that jumps on to the fungus and shuts down its aflatoxin production.