- 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.
- One strategy prevents groundnuts from being infected by the fungus thereby preventing the toxins from being produced.
- 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.
- The discovery has the potential to drastically improve food safety and reduce losses caused by the contamination from the poisonous carcinogen, aflatoxin.
- 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:
- Agro-ecosystems development
- Harnessing plant biotechnology and bioinformatics
- Crop improvement and management
- Institutions, Markets, policy and Impacts