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How to grow toxin-free corn

Genetic engineering gives grain tool to stop infecting fungus from making aflatoxins

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2:00pm, March 10, 2017
transgenic corn infected with fungus

GRAIN TRAINING  Genetically altered corn infected with Aspergillus fungus (shown) may be able to prevent the fungus from releasing carcinogenic toxins.

Corn genetically engineered to make ninjalike molecules can launch an attack on invading fungi, stopping the production of carcinogenic toxins.

These specialized RNA molecules lie in wait until they detect Aspergillus, a mold that can turn grains and beans into health hazards. Then the molecules pounce, stopping the mold from producing a key protein responsible for making aflatoxins, researchers report March 10 in Science Advances. With aflatoxins and other fungal toxins affecting up to 25 percent of crops worldwide, the finding could help boost global food safety, the researchers conclude.

“If there’s no protein, no toxin,” says study coauthor Monica Schmidt, a plant geneticist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Schmidt and colleagues used a technique called RNA interference, which takes advantage of a natural defense mechanism organisms use to protect

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