Arizona Researchers Battle Toxic Fungus On Corn

By Sara Hammond
Published: Friday, March 10, 2017 - 12:06pm
Updated: Friday, March 10, 2017 - 1:20pm

(Photo courtesy of USDA - Agricultural Research Office)
Alfatoxins on an ear of corn.

Arizona researchers have found a way to fight soil toxins that can infect corn crops and cause illness in people who consume them. The research gives corn its own defense mechanism.

What scientists call alfatoxins are a global agricultural problem. They cause the loss of millions of tons of crops and they threaten human health.

Researchers put genetic material into corn that triggers the plants to shut off the toxins carried in soil fungus. Those toxins can cause liver cancer and make humans susceptible to secondary infections such as HIV and malaria.

“So in essence we’re giving the corn a chance to fight back against the fungal toxin," said Monica Schmidt, a University of Arizona plant sciences professor.

While the corn plants may still host the fungus, the toxicity is put in check. Schmidt said the next step is to tackle the fungal growth itself.

She said agricultural products in the United States undergo rigorous testing for toxin levels. In developing countries, the agricultural products may be consumed rather than destroyed because it is the only food available.

The genetically modified corn will be tested to make sure it is safe for consumption, Schmidt said. Initial testing done at the UA showed no changes in the corn kernels.

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