A team of international researchers from the US and the UK have received a grant of $750,000 to develop portable, rapid biosensors capable of detecting noroviruses and mycotoxins in foods and agricultural products. The researchers say noroviruses are the leading cause of foodborne illness globally and are highly contagious. They cause a pandemic every few years. On the other hand, mycotoxins are produced by fungi that can grow in warm and humid conditions on crops and food such as grains, nuts, seeds and spices. They represent a growing threat to public health in the face of climate change trends and increased consumption of plant-based foods.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) partnership grant is among the first awarded with an international partner by the USDA. The team is led by University of Massachusetts, Amherst, food and environmental virologist Matthew Moore, whose team will also test the technology for wide adoption.
Moore said it’s difficult to notice mycotoxins but they often lead to a chronic damage, especially to kidneys and liver. Mycotoxins can also promote cancer. Human noroviruses are responsible for over 200,000 deaths globally every year, many of which are children under the age of five. They impose an economic burden of billions of dollars.
“We need a way to quickly and easily find out if a food contains these contaminants in a cheap but effective way – without the need to go back to a separate lab to do the testing,” he said.
With this technology, the team is trying to create a cheap, highly durable, and potentially reusable sensor that can detect these contaminants. Moore said the nanoMIP-based sensing technology has numerous advantages. “It is very stable in intense conditions and very portable. It is also quite inexpensive, a very important consideration in testing for foods,” he added.
The researchers say the NanoMIP-based electrochemical sensing is an exciting new application for agricultural targets. It has shown promise for other targets, including SARS-CoV-2, and the researchers hope to further explore its potential for human noroviruses and mycotoxins.