Eliminating Fungal Contamination from our Food

By: Rochel Leah Itzkowitz  |  November 2, 2022

Rochel Leah Itzkowitz

A common challenge people face while manufacturing goods or buying groceries is the appearance of mold. The contamination typically leads to financial and health loss, as mold contains a plethora of toxic chemicals. Fortunately, a recent study has genetically engineered a fungus that can restrain specific proteins from generating their harmful chemicals.

Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals that fungi generate; they can ruin crops and make us ill. According to the WHO, these molds typically contaminate foods such as nuts, dried fruits, spices, cereals, and more. A Japanese study recorded that the most common fungal contamination complaints were in cakes, snacks, and bakery products, while processed food had the biggest fungal concerns. 

A threatening type of mycotoxins is called aflatoxins, and consuming them can lead to health issues such as liver cancer. Aflatoxins can appear in our food even when there has been proper manufacturing.  

When fungi contaminate the food we put into our bodies, it can be uncomfortable and even lethal. Fortunately, recent research has discovered that removing a single protein can eliminate these fungal toxins. 

In the September 23 issue of Nucleic Acids Research, the leading scientist, Bayram, and his colleagues were determined to uncover the details behind these fungal toxins. They classified a number of proteins controlling the increase in the production of mycotoxins. If they were to genetically engineer the fungus Aspergillus Nidulans, it could remove the proteins and stop the toxins from being produced.

Bayram asserted that these recognized proteins behave like a key starting a car. The goal of his research team was to learn how to “remove the key and prevent the starting signal from going through, meaning that no toxins would be made in the first place.”

The team discerned the proteins in Aspergillus Nidulans and found that precisely four proteins unite to make the key. They created the fungus needed to delete the protein. Bayram added that a related research study discovered that “deactivating the same group of proteins in the closely-related fungus Aspergillus Flavus, which can make aflatoxins, prevents the production of those toxins.” He says that it’s evident that the protein complex completes the same function in at least these two fungi.

Unfortunately, a third of crops around the world are ruined by water molds. These contaminants include fungi and fungi-like organisms. This new research, building upon past experiments, can aid in removing the fungal contamination from our food. If this objective is reached, Bayram claimed, “the saved food would be enough to feed 800 million people in 2022.” 

Although this area needs further exploration, this research will jumpstart the challenge of protecting our agriculture and overall wellness. Removing fungi from what we feed ourselves will, in turn, strengthen our bodies and lead us to long, healthy lives.