- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
It is the same pest that UC plant pathologist Themis Michailides has had in his crosshairs for 30 years.
Aflatoxin is caused by a soil-borne fungus. A 2004 outbreak in Kenya killed 125 people, and long-term exposure is responsible for thousands of cases of liver cancer each year. In the United States and Europe, regulations prevent the toxin from being a major health problem, but the issue is far worse overseas. Michailides is studying the use of a beneficial fungus to combat aflatoxin.
“We've gotten great results,” Michailides said. “The reduction in aflatoxin contaminated nuts has been up to 45 percent. We anticipate higher reduction with application of the beneficial fungus for multiple years and on larger acreage.”
Video gamers are attacking aflatoxin from an entirely different angle. The game, called Foldit, lets players fold, twist and rotate protein models into new configurations. Points are awarded for efficiency. In Foldit's Aflatoxin Challenge, players try to fold a protein into a shape that will break down the aflatoxin molecule into something harmless.