Fighting Aflatoxin With Beneficial Fungal Strain

While several species of Aspergillus fungi produce aflatoxins - some species are actually considered beneficial. In fact - a strain dubbed K49 is now being recruited by USDA scientists to battle the harmful species and prevent them from contaminating host crops like corn with the highly toxic carcinogen. Eacy year - aflatoxin causes an estimated 200-million dollars in U.S. losses alone. But the USDA scientists - in collaboration with scientists in Italy - have devised a new method of applying K49 as a frontline defense against aflatoxin contamination in corn. K49 cannot produce aflatoxin - but it can exclude its aflatoxin-producing cousins from the ecological niches and resources they need to survive. Exploiting this rivalry - according to USDA's Agricultural Research Service - offers an effective way to diminish aflatoxin levels in soil and in corn kernels.

Scientists encapsulated K49 in bioplastic granules. They say these bioplastic granules improve the beneficial mold's storage life and viability once applied. In tests - applications of the bioplastic-coated K49 reduced aflatoxin levels by 65 to 97-percent. USDA's scientist says this technology may also prove useful in delivering other beneficial fungi used to safeguard crops from disease.

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