Toxin trial-blazer

Cost-effective and easy way to test aflatoxin contamination evolved

Published: Thursday 15 August 2002

-- a simple, cost-effective and easy test for detecting the presence of aflatoxins in foodstuff has been recently developed by Andhra Pradesh-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Aflatoxins are chemicals produced by the fungus Aspergillus that commonly grows on food material. Even small doses of the toxins taken over a long period of time can cause health problems such as liver cancer, says Randhir Sud, senior consultant of gastroenterologist at the Sir Gangaram Hospital, New Delhi.

The test is based on the technique of ELISA (enzyme linked immuno sorbent assay), which can detect the presence of very small amounts of the toxins. To use ELISA, all toxins present in the food are first extracted in an organic solvent. These toxins are then dispensed on an ELISA plate, which is coated with a substance sensitive to aflatoxins. Thereafter, a series of reaction are initiated which lead to the formation of a yellow colour compound. The compound is an indicator of the presence of aflatoxins -- the more the colour, the lesser the toxins.

"The test would help a lot as high amounts of the toxins have been found in groundwater, food and milk in India," says D V R Reddy, principal scientist at the mycotoxins and virology laboratory of icrisat. The test is quick and cost-effective as compared to the conventionally used ones, which use large number of chemicals and expensive equipments. The testing cost using ELISA is just Rs 20 per tests, which is ten times lower than the conventionally used ones. "Moreover, more than 100 samples can be tested in a day by using ELISA," says a researcher at the crop management and utilisation for food security department of ICRISAT.

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