Detecting Harmful Fungi and Toxins in Spices with Advanced Molecular Techniques

Greg Howard
17th May, 2024

Detecting Harmful Fungi and Toxins in Spices with Advanced Molecular Techniques

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study by the University of Sulaimani investigated fungal contamination in 35 spice samples commonly used in Iraq
  • Aspergillus species were the most common fungi found, with high toxigenicity detected in A. flavus strains
  • Significant levels of harmful mycotoxins, aflatoxins, and ochratoxins were detected in black pepper and red chili, posing health risks
Spices are integral to culinary traditions worldwide, including Iraq, where they are extensively used for flavoring food. However, these popular ingredients can be susceptible to contamination by toxicogenic fungi, which can produce harmful mycotoxins. A recent study conducted by the University of Sulaimani aimed to investigate the extent of fungal contamination in commonly used spices and to detect the presence of mycotoxins using advanced techniques[1]. The study focused on 35 spice samples, including black pepper, red pepper, turmeric, cumin, and ginger. These samples were cultured on an appropriate medium to identify various fungal species. The researchers employed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays to determine the toxigenicity of Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus niger, two common fungal contaminants. They also used high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with the QuECHERS method to detect fungal mycotoxins, specifically aflatoxins and ochratoxins. Aspergillus species were found to be the predominant fungi in the spice samples, followed by Penicillium and Fusarium species. The PCR results revealed a high toxigenicity of A. flavus, with 85.7% of the strains possessing the aflQ/aflR genes and 79% containing the PKS15KS/PKS15C-MeT genes. These genes are known to be involved in the production of aflatoxins, a group of potent carcinogenic toxins. The highest rates of aflatoxins and ochratoxins were detected in black pepper (5.913 μg/kg) and red chilli (6.9055 μg/kg), respectively. This study builds on previous research that has highlighted the risks posed by Aspergillus species in agricultural commodities. For example, earlier studies have shown that maize, a staple crop in Saudi Arabia, is often contaminated with A. flavus during storage[2]. These studies used a combination of microscopic morphological, biochemical, and molecular characterizations to identify aflatoxigenic and non-aflatoxigenic isolates. The findings emphasized the importance of accurate detection methods like real-time PCR (RTi-PCR) and HPLC for identifying aflatoxigenic isolates, which pose significant health risks. Similarly, another study isolated Aspergillus flavus from feed and grain samples, confirming all isolates to be aflatoxigenic through DNA sequencing and toxin-producing ability tests[3]. This research underscored the potential risks of A. flavus contamination in agricultural commodities and the need for proper harvest and storage management to mitigate these risks. The findings from the University of Sulaimani's study are particularly concerning given the widespread use of spices in daily cooking. The presence of mycotoxins in spices poses a significant health risk, as these toxins can lead to various health issues, including liver damage and cancer. The study's use of advanced techniques like PCR and HPLC provides a reliable method for detecting these contaminants, thereby enabling more effective surveillance and quality control measures. In light of these findings, it is crucial to implement regular and effective surveillance and quality control procedures to ensure the safety of spices. This includes monitoring for fungal contamination and mycotoxin levels, as well as educating producers and consumers about the risks and proper storage practices. By taking these steps, we can help mitigate the health risks associated with contaminated spices and ensure that they remain a safe and flavorful part of our diets.



Main Study

1) Assessment of fungal species in some spices using molecular study with detection of their mycotoxins using chromatography analysis.

Published 16th May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Molecular profile of aflatoxigenic and non-aflatoxigenic isolates of Aspergillus flavus isolated from stored maize.

3) Characterization of aflatoxin producing Aspergillus flavus from food and feed samples.

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