A $750,000 grant has been awarded to a group of multinational researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom to create portable, fast biosensors capable of detecting noroviruses and mycotoxins in foods and agricultural products. Noroviruses, according to experts, are the most common cause of foodborne illness worldwide and are highly contagious. Every few years, they start a pandemic. Mycotoxins, on the other hand, are created by fungi that thrive in warm, humid environments and can be found on cereals, nuts, seeds, and spices. In the context of climate change trends and greater consumption of plant-based foods, they pose a significant hazard to public health.
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) partnership grant is one of the first to be issued in collaboration with a foreign partner. Matthew Moore, a food and environmental virologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is leading the project, which will also evaluate the technique for general use.
Mycotoxins are difficult to detect, according to Moore, but they frequently cause long-term harm, particularly to the kidneys and liver. Mycotoxins have also been linked to the development of cancer. Every year, human noroviruses kill approximately 200,000 people worldwide, many of whom are youngsters under the age of five. They impose a multibillion-dollar economic burden.
“We need a technique to immediately and easily determine if a food includes these toxins in an expense manner — without having to return to a separate lab,” he said.
The team is using this technology to develop a low-cost, long-lasting, and potentially reusable sensor that can detect these toxins. Moore claims that the nanoMIP-based sensing technique provides a slew of benefits. “It’s extremely stable under extreme situations and quite portable.” It’s also rather inexpensive, which is a key factor to consider when testing for foods,” he noted.
NanoMIP-based electrochemical sensing, according to the researchers, is an interesting new application for agricultural objectives. Other targets, such as SARS-CoV-2, have shown promise, and the researchers plan to investigate its potential for human noroviruses and mycotoxins further.