Better tools for food safety

On 2 February the kick-off meeting of a transnational project coordinated by postdoc Beatriz Prieto of the Nanobioengineering group took place at IBEC. The project, ‘Development of innovative tools for Ochratoxin A’, will evaluate and tackle the threat to humans and animals of exposure to mycotoxins (fungal metabolites) in food. 

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It is to be funded for two years by the Working Community of the Pyrenees (CTP) and involves French partners the Université de Perpignan and the Institut National Polytechnique de Toulouse, the Basque country’s Centro de Tecnologías Electroquímicas (CIDETEC) and the Catalan Institute of Agriculture and Food Research and Technology (IRTA), as well as several industry partners.

Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a common mycotoxin which contaminates a wide range of animal and plant products – including cereals, coffee, cocoa, nuts and vines – during storage. Studies show that the absorption of OTA in the gastrointestinal tract causes acute and chronic lesions of the kidneys and liver, and in humans its presence has been associated with an increased incidence of tumours in the upper urinary tract, leading to its classification as a possible carcinogen.

The techniques currently used to detect OTA are expensive and inefficient, and the partners will be using new technology based on nanomolecules called aptamers to develop a range of innovative, safe and sensitive detection tools. Besides coordinating the project, the IBEC Nanobioengineering group will design and optimize bioassays and biosensors based on these innovative sensing components to allow greater sensitivity and specificity in detecting mycotoxins, as well as being simple to use. One of the key features of the developed sensors will be the ability to detect an OTA metabolite, OT-hidroquinone (OTHQ), which is more toxic than OTA itself and for which there is still no detection system available.  

In addition, the project aims to evaluate different detoxification processes using adsorbents, as well as evaluating the toxicity of agro-alimentary samples from different parts of the CTP region. Finally, with the study of kidney cells contaminated with OTA, the project will provide information on the extent and mechanism of toxicity of the metabolite.