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What is sterigmatocystin?

beans-and-grain-1563581-1280x960I’ve been very busy recently running multiple projects at EuroProxima. One of these projects is about a toxin called sterigmatocystin. Its chemical structure is very similar to that of aflatoxins. You can find some basic information about aflatoxins here. And just like aflatoxins (some of the most potent toxins found in nature!) sterigmatocystin is extremely harmful. It can cause cancer and it is toxic to liver and kidneys. Surprisingly, we do not know much about how often it occurs in food and feed. Some recent reports show that it can be present in grains and grain based products if they get contaminated during storage with toxin producing moulds. Green coffee beans, nuts, spices and cheese are among other products which can potentially be affected.

Toxins in the air you breath

mould-1194557-1280x960On the other hand, the mould that produces sterigmatocystin –  Aspergillus versicoloris a common invader in damp houses. It can grow on walls, ceilings, floors and other surfaces. It is able to produce sterigmatocystin which is then spread into the air and can be inhaled with dust by humans! If you happen to live in such an infected house chances are you have been exposed to carcinogenic sterigmatocystin (and other mycotoxins) all the time. Moulds growing in indoor environments have been linked to lung diseases. If you treasure your health then preventing the growth of moulds in your house should be your top priority.

My project

Mouldy Cheese covered in bacteria

I am currently working on a fast and simple test that will be used to easily screen for the presence of sterigmatocystin in food and feed. I admit that this project has been quite challenging. Before I could even start working on the very test, I had to produce special proteins, called antibodies, that would work as recognition elements in my tests. Allow me to explain: imagine that the toxin is a unique key that fits only one lock. My task was to craft this exact lock. With its help I was able to isolate one specific key from the throng of other keys. In other words: the antibodies (or the lock) made it possible to identify the toxin (or the key). It’s a simplified explanation of a complex test, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Once completed the test will then be offered to food producers and inspectors so that they can find contaminated batches of raw products, such as grains, before they are processed into final products and placed on the market. It is all about making our food safer!

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