Uganda Genetically Engineers a New Maize Variety That Is Resistant to a Poisonous Fungus

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By Michelle Mukonyora

7 May 2016

Aflatoxins are poisonous toxins found on food grains, which are improperly stored, and they are amongst the most carcinogenic chemicals. Outbreaks of aflatoxin poisoning have devastating social and economic effects. A Kenyan outbreak in 2003 alone left 120 people dead. Alarmingly, it is estimated that 25% of the global food supply is contaminated with aflatoxins, and this mostly affects developing countries.

Maize infected with Aspergillus fungus. Credit: Texas A&M University

Aflatoxins are produced by specific fungal species, and these fungi grow in the soil, on grains, and on decomposing plants. Both humans and animals are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Aflatoxins are also passed down the food chain when products from animals that were fed with contaminated food are consumed. Aflatoxin poisoning has various effects. Children may suffer from cancer, liver damage, and growth problems. Aflatoxins may also result in a coma and mental health problems.

Aspergillus fungus responsible for producing aflatoxins. Credit: Massachussett’s Institute of Technology

The National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCCRI) in Uganda has developed a new maize variety, which is resistant to the fungi that produce aflatoxins. This maize variety is part of a larger project that aims to reduce aflatoxins in both maize and groundnuts. This is exciting news for the African research space, as it is increasingly important that we find homegrown solutions to food security problems.