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Research Project: On-farm Preharvest Mitigation and Control of Aflatoxin Contamination of Corn

Location: Responsive Agricultural Food Systems Research

Project Number: 3093-42000-001-001-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Aug 1, 2023
End Date: Jan 31, 2025

Texas A&M University AgriLife Research scientists will collaborate with scientists in the ARS Responsive Agricultural Food Systems Research Unit (RAFSRU) located in Texas at College Station, as well as other ARS scientists in New Orleans and Tucson to conduct a broad range of research activities focused on defense against the presence of aflatoxin, enhancement of mitigation measures, and development of post-harvest strategies to reduce aflatoxin infestation and contamination of corn (Zea mays). This research project is relevant to USDA-ARS National Program 108 (Food Safety) under Problem Statement 5: Develop, validate, and implement intervention and control strategies to reduce or eliminate pathogens in the food system. Specific Objectives of this research are as follows: Objective 1. Develop methodologies and technologies that prevent and/or defend against the presence of aflatoxin in corn grown in the United States. Objective 2. Develop in-field mitigation measures to improve testing/scouting, crop protection measures, and best management practices. Objective 3. Develop post-harvest strategies to improve testing procedures, storage and handling technologies and methodologies which mitigate aflatoxin, and amelioration technology for contaminated grain.

To better understand and manage aflatoxin in corn production systems field and laboratory research will be conducted that results in development of new procedures/practices to better manage and mitigate disease damage to corn crops and reduce potential aflatoxin contamination to food sources. Aflatoxins belong to the general class of mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus fungi. These fungi are ubiquitous in many soils where corn is grown in the United States. As secondary metabolites aflatoxins are a serious human and animal health problem affecting short and long-term health, trade and export markets of corn-based products. When consumed in low dosages over prolonged periods, aflatoxins may lead to poor nutrient absorption, retarded child growth and development by contributing to malnutrition, increase the incidence and severity of infectious diseases, and suppress the immune system. Chronic exposure is a major risk factor for liver cancer (hepatotoxic carcinoma) in particular, in areas where hepatitis B virus infection is endemic. Ingestion of higher doses of aflatoxin can result in acute aflatoxicosis, which exhibits as hepatotoxicity, or in severe cases, complete liver failure and subsequent death. Corn is a dietary staple in the United States and is one of the cereal crops most susceptible to infection by A. flavus and contamination by aflatoxin. Contamination of corn with aflatoxin continues to be a major issue for industry, in-particular during the on-farm preharvest phase and during postharvest activities. Two approaches to address the concerns are the development of aflatoxin resistant corn varieties, utilizing various genomic strategies such as classical breeding and interference RNA. However, to date, the most successful is the biological control approach through the application of nontoxigenic strains of A. flavus and A. parasiticus to soils where they competitively exclude naturally toxigenic strains.