CANADA – Canadian researchers have unveiled a novel method utilizing atmospheric cold plasma to effectively reduce mycotoxin levels in wheat and barley grains, while simultaneously enhancing seed germination. 

Mycotoxins, harmful toxins produced by fungi in warm and humid conditions, pose serious threats to both livestock and human health. 

Moreover, research shows that corn, peanuts, and wheat may incur losses ranging from US$0.5 million to over US$1.5 billion annually due to aflatoxin, fumonisin, and deoxynivalenol.

This pioneering discovery could revolutionize food processing and livestock feed industries by offering safer and more efficient grain processing techniques.

Lead researcher Ehsan Feizollahi, from the Faculty of Agricultural, Life, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta, emphasized the pressing need for improved decontamination methods, as existing practices only partially remove mycotoxins. 

Feizollahi’s team developed two forms of plasma—ionized gas and liquid—and applied them to grains infected with prevalent mycotoxins, zearalenone, and deoxynivalenol.

The results were remarkable, with the plasma treatment reducing mycotoxin levels by an impressive 54%. Professor M.S. Roopesh, overseeing the research, hailed this achievement as a promising start, envisioning even greater efficacy through the optimization of treatment conditions. 

Importantly, this reduction could significantly minimize grain waste and ensure the safety of both human and animal consumption.

Furthermore, the treatment process demonstrated remarkable efficiency, requiring only brief durations ranging from one minute to an hour. Roopesh highlighted the sustainability of the method, as it relies on air and electricity from renewable sources, leaving no residues on the grain. 

Additionally, the researchers found that plasma treatment enhanced seed germination, offering potential benefits to the malting barley industry by improving water absorption and germination rates.

The technology, now available for licensing through the University of Alberta, presents a promising avenue for commercial adoption. 

Future endeavors involve scaling up the cold plasma method for broader applications, including reducing microbial contamination in food and water, which could combat illnesses caused by bacterial pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella.

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