New sensor system sniffs out mycotoxins in wheat

Mycotoxins –  produced by fungi  contaminate about 25 % of food crops worldwide, according to the latest estimates. Detecting contamination quickly and reliably is essential for food safety, as mycotoxins could be transferred to bread, for instance, making it unsafe for human or animal consumption.

Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by moulds. In agriculture, such moulds can infect a variety of crops, including wheat, barley, oats and maize. Their consumption can cause serious health issues in both humans and animals, ranging from minor ailments to organ damage and a compromised immune system. Before they enter the food and feed chain, heavily contaminated crops must be destroyed. The MYCOHUNT project developed a system that can sniff out mycotoxins almost immediately.
Finding the culprit fast!
In an attempt to speed up the detection process, the EU-funded MYCOHUNT project developed an innovative rapid biosensor for deoxynivalenol (DON) in wheat. DON is a mycotoxin most commonly formed in wheat, barley, oats, rye, and maize. During the flowering period, a fungus can invade the plant, and will then start to generate DON a very stable substance that resists high as well as low temperatures.
Traditional detection methods usually performed off-site rely on the sampling of the wheat grain and require human intervention, which leaves greater room for error. The MYCOHUNT system automatically samples the dust of the wheat grain on-site during harvesting or transfer.
Connected to the transportation pipes or purifying units of the wheat processing facility, the device collects dust samples from each lot and forwards them to the measuring unit. This unit contains a highly sensitive biosensor with specially developed DON-detecting antibodies.
Calculated on the basis of this correlation, the computer-based control and monitoring unit shows the results within 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the amount of wheat. Traditional methods can take days. This enables traders, millers or growers to monitor crop quality more quickly and efficiently.
Testing of the prototype under laboratory conditions and in the field, as well as the training provided to the participating SMEs, went well. Additional tests are now necessary before the finishing touches can be introduced to the system to make it market-ready. It is expected in market in two years.
Source: Horizon 2020