Alfalfa

Alfalfa

  • Alfalfa is a flowering plant of the pea family.
  • Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus.
  • The molds, Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, infect groundnut, maize, cottonseed and chilly.
  • The molds produce these toxins which suppress the immune system, hinder growth in children and even cause liver cancer.
  • The fungus which produces these toxins can stay dormant in soil for years and infects maize and groundnut during drought and heat stress.
  • Contamination also happens when grain is stored in hot, humid and poorly-ventilated conditions.

 

 

Genetic Engineering Technique

  • Genetic engineering approaches were used for inserting two alfalfa genes into groundnut plants to enhance immunity against fungal infection and growth.
  • Preventing aflatoxin production even in case of any infection was achieved through a plant-induced gene silencing technique.
  1. One strategy prevents groundnuts from being infected by the fungus thereby preventing the toxins from being produced.
  2. Other strategy prevents the fungus from producing the toxin even if groundnuts somehow get infected with the fungus.
  • Both of these strategies showed promising results but the ultimate goal is to combine the two traits into a single variety to offer double protection so that groundnuts do not accumulate any aflatoxin or the amount of toxin is well within permissible limits at or after harvest.

 

Significance

  • The discovery has the potential to drastically improve food safety and reduce losses caused by the contamination from the poisonous carcinogen, aflatoxin.

 

About ICRISAT

  • The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is an international organization which conducts agricultural research for rural development.
  • It is headquartered at Hyderabad, Telangana and has many regional offices and research centres in Asia and Africa.
  • ICRISAT conducts its research under four themes:
  1. Agro-ecosystems development
  2. Harnessing plant biotechnology and bioinformatics
  3. Crop improvement and management
  4. Institutions, Markets, policy and Impacts

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