Spotlight on the EU-funded MYCORED and MycoKey projects

  • 16th September 2016
  • by secretary

Over the last 5-6 years significant advances, particularly in industrial countries, have been made in the development of genomic, proteomic, metabolomic and ecophysiological information on host plant, mycotoxigenic moulds.

MycoKey is the new project funded by European Commission under Horizon 2020 programme, Societal challenge 2 “Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy challenge” – topic “ Biological contamination of crops and the food chain”.

  • It aims to deliver in 2019 the first integrated ICT based solutions to address mycotoxin contamination along the food and feed chain, by using an holistic and sustainable approach.
  • In the past, several actions have been developed to counteract mycotoxins effects and risks in the single stages of the value chain, often difficult to be applied by common farmers and SMEs. 
  • MycoKey will integrate innovative key actions into an user friendly and cheap application, able to provide real-time information and suggestions for mycotoxin management to several stakeholders. Studies will be carried out to investigate new methods to prevent the contamination in the field, during processing and storage. New sustainable technologies will be developed (i.e. drones) to monitor toxigenic fungi, analyze and prevent the mycotoxin contamination and risk, finally to apply remediation tools.
  • 32 partners from Europe, China, Nigeria, Argentina, including research institutions, SMEs, industries and associations will work together for 4 years, focusing on aflatoxins, deoxynivalenol, zearalenone, ochratoxin A, fumonisins. They will also operate together to strenghten the global knowledge on mycotoxins, feed an effective cooperation with China, and to create interaction with other projects and initiatives, giving recommendations to regulators.
MycoRed ’s objectives are to develop practically useful tools for quantifiable and significant reductions in toxin contamination of economically important commodities for food and feed.

Innovation is achieved at different levels in the food/feed chain and in the SME applications based on:

  • the development of new pre- and post-harvest strategies for achieving the required specifications addressed due to the selected applications;
  • the combination of advanced technological solutions for improving specifications; 
  • cost reduction for novel analytical/molecular solutions at the laboratory level, allowing the massive use and thus, the improvement of monitoring of safety and quality;
  • the application of very high-tech multidisciplinary solutions (i.e. ambient intelligence, web-inar, DNAarrays, biomarkers) to traditional activities (i.e. conferences, training courses) in Europe.
The overall objectives of MycoRed are:

  • to develop novel solution driven methodologies and handling procedures to reduce both pre- and post-harvest contamination in selected feed and food chains
  • to generate and disseminate information and education strategies to reduce mycotoxin risks at a global level. High risk areas will receive major attention by cooperation with international agriculture and food organizations and by applying the results of all technical workpackages of the project.
Video interview

PAEPARD video interviewed Dr. Hassan Ahmed El Sayed Amra, Food Toxicology and Contaminants Department, National Research Center Egypt. Dr. Hassan Ahmed El Sayed Amra answers following question: What were the benefits for Egypt to participate in the EU-funded MYCORED project?

Peanuts, wheat and maize are important crops grown in Egypt for either local consumption or export to European markets. A study examined the importance of mycotoxigenic Aspergilli in Egyptian peanuts and maize from many different regions (such as Alexandria, Cairo, Giza, El-Beheira, El- Daqahliya, El-Sharqiya, Asyut) in three seasons (2013, 2014. and 2015).

The most common species in peanuts were from Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus nigri, Aspergillus ochracious and Aspergillus circumdati. On maize the common strains are Aspergillus flavi, Aspergillus parasiticus, and Penicillium. Of a total of 88 Aspergillus section flavi strains examined, 90% were aflatoxigenic. Around 95% were A. flavus, based on the ability to produce only aflatoxin B1 and B2 (AFB1, B2).

A special set of problems arise when peanuts are shipped in containers. Even when a correct examination to test for aflatoxin has been performed in the country of origin, before the harvest was loaded, the shipping conditions may still stimulate the production of aflatoxin to such an extent that the consignment is ruined within a few weeks of being loaded. An aflatoxin test at the port of arrival will therefore reveal entirely different results to the one performed before loading. If the allowed values are exceeded, the entire consignment must be disposed of. Temperature fluctuations inside the container can be quite extreme, especially when the container is shipped on the deck. The peanuts “sweat” and then, after the outside temperatures have cooled down, water condenses and trickles down the walls. If condensation comes into contact with the peanuts or drops down on them, this causes an increased infestation of Aspergillus in that spot.

The cost of keeping aflatoxin out of the food supply amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars to the US and world economy annually. In that sense, in developed countries, aflatoxin contamination is more of an economic issue than a food safety issue (Egmond et al. 2007).

A research proposal was submitted to the African Union Research Grant (closing 31/08/2016) for the identification of natural substrates or active agents able to limit the development of toxigenic fungi and/or mycotoxin synthesis.

  • Use of bio-control agents is proposed as a better pre-harvest tool as use of fungicides or chemicals can add to production costs. Proponents of bio-control agents also suggest that breeding for disease resistant crops is time consuming and does not address the problem of emerging virulent fungal species (Rajasekaran et al., 2009). 
  • Several molecules have already been identified as potent AFB1 inhibitors (Holmes et al., 2008). Most of them block the synthesis early, by modifying the environment of the toxinogenic fungus.
  • Unfortunately, most of these molecules display toxic properties that do not allow their use on agricultural commodities. 
  • The research proposal aims to develop alternative strategies to control aflatoxins and ochratoxin contamination based on the identification of natural compounds able to either inhibit Aspergillus development or specifically block mycotoxin synthesis. 
  • The research proposal will focus on natural compounds that are more likely to be integrated in sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Bio-control agents have been shown to reduce contamination in field by 77-98 % (Horn and Dorner, 2009). A possible bio-control agent is use of non-toxigenic strains of A. flavus and A. parasiticus (Dorner, 2009). Streptomyces spp. (strain ASBV-1) has also been shown to be a promising bio-control agent for inhibiting A. parasiticus in corn and peanuts, reducing the viability of A. parasiticus spores by as much as 85 % (Zucchi et al., 2008). Another possible bio-control agent that has been investigated is Trichoderma harzianum and Trichoderma viride that were found to effectively suppress the growth of peanut moulds and to significantly reduce Aflatoxin B1 and B2 (Gachomo and Kotchoni, 2008).
  • The interest of such an approach is to develop new strategies able to reduce these contaminants and improve food safety. It is of direct practical interest since identified active compounds, due to their natural origin, could be easily integrated into sustainable agricultural practices.
  • For production in which fungal development of aflatoxigenic species is the major problem, natural antifungal molecules may be of great practical interest (peanuts, cereals). By contrast, for other raw materials, it may be more interesting to specifically fight against mycotoxin since application of antifungal agents may lead to an important modification of the biodiversity and open the door to other contaminants such as bacteria or other micro-organisms (spices, cured meat products).
  • This research project (if selected) is to identify new molecules of natural origin able to block Aspergillus development or toxin synthesis, for which the mechanism of action will be elucidated and that could be tested for application in the fields.