Team:Hong Kong JSS

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Team:Hong Kong JSS

AflaCut: An Innovative Approach to
Tackle Aflatoxin Contamination in Food

Aflatoxins pose a serious health risk to human and damage our economy. Currently, more than 5 billion people worldwide suffer from uncontrolled exposure to aflatoxins. Chronic exposure to aflatoxins has several health consequences including Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), immunosuppression, and birth defects in children. While large doses of aflatoxins (>20 μg/kg bw per day) can lead to acute poisoning through damage to the liver. Aflatoxins also pose a significant economic burden, causing an estimated 25% or more of the world’s food crops to be destroyed annually.

Aflatoxins are primarily produced by the food-borne mycotoxigenic molds Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. They are found on agricultural crops such as corn, peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts naturally all over the world. Although pre- and post-harvest control measures such as enhancing the ability of the crop to resist fungal and improving storage conditions are used to control the level of aflatoxins in food, aflatoxins can still be detected in food across both developing and developed countries. Exposure to aflatoxins needs to be kept as low as possible to protect the consumer.

Our project aimed to provide an innovative solution to mitigate aflatoxins contamination in food. Research has proven that the enzyme laccase and FDR-A can reduce aflatoxin level via enzymatic degradation. We have designed two products, one using laccase and FDR-A producing E. coli to compete with Aspergillus flavus in storing food crops, another will be an enzyme spray for removing aflatoxins in potentially contaminated food sources.

On the phase 1 of this project, we are focusing on designing and modeling of our project. We had completed the theoretical design of the project, done preliminary tests to prove our design could work, proposed follow up experiments and designed two product prototypes that could implement our project in the real world.

Next, in phase 2, we will focus on building and testing to execute more Design-Build-Test cycles. Measurement and statistical analysis of how well our GM E. coli could reduce aflatoxins in food crops, characterisation of our BioBrick and the building and testing of our prototypes will be done in phase 2.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Aflatoxins. Food Safety Digest, Department of Food safety and Zoonoses. REF. No.: WHO/NHM/FOS/RAM/18.1. 2018. Available at: 01-06-2019.

Strosnider H, Azziz-Baumgartner E, Banziger M, et al. Workgroup report: public health strategies for reducing aflatoxin exposure in developing countries. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114(12):1898-1903. doi:10.1289/ehp.9302

Liu Y, Wu F. Global burden of aflatoxin-induced hepatocellular carcinoma: a risk assessment. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118(6):818-824. doi:10.1289/ehp.0901388

Lien KW, Wang X, Pan MH, Ling MP. Assessing Aflatoxin Exposure Risk from Peanuts and Peanut Products Imported to Taiwan. Toxins (Basel). 2019;11(2):80. Published 2019 Feb 1. doi:10.3390/toxins11020080

Dellafiora L, Galaverna G, Reverberi M, Dall'Asta C. Degradation of Aflatoxins by Means of Laccases from Trametes versicolor: An In Silico Insight. Toxins (Basel). 2017;9(1):17. Published 2017 Jan 1. doi:10.3390/toxins9010017