Professor at the Department of Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Technology in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Santiago de Compostela […]
Professor at the Department of Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Technology in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Santiago de Compostela University – USC. With 300 published articles, 22 patents, 12 edited books and 45 directed doctoral theses, he is also the coordinator of the research group Farmatox (Marine Toxins: Transduction Mechanisms, therapeutic uses and detection methods) at the USC Campus Terra.
Mycotoxins are natural contaminants with a high presence in animal and human food. Why should we be concerned about their high presence?
Because its effect is rarely acute and, except in exceptional cases, its toxic manifestations appear after long periods of time, it is sometimes difficult to establish the cause-effect link. In the case of animal feed, the controls required by legislation are less comprehensive than for humans, and acute poisoning is easier to detect.
In your opinion, what are the factors that cause its prevalence not to decrease? There is some evidence that climate change greatly increases the distribution of mycotoxin-producing fungi. However, international trade increases the number of hot spots, and this is compounded by the form of transport, usually by ship, which combines two dangerous elements, humidity and heat, which facilitate the growth of fungi. Climate change greatly increases the distribution of mycotoxin-producing fungi.
Climate change is not only an important aspect related to mycotoxins, but to food safety in general.
We have detected in recent years the presence of new marine toxins in southern Europe, and of course the increase in CO2 is related to the increased growth of some fungi.
Although the ecology of these fungi is not sufficiently known to establish predictive models over 20 or 30 years, it is clear that e.g. the growth of Aspergillus or Fusarium is expected to be higher and to spread much further into Northern Europe in the coming years.
There is no doubt that climate change will increase the risk of mycotoxins globally.
Do you think that the scientific advances made so far fully meet the demands of food safety that the market requires of us?
Clearly not, there are two major problems, one is the availability of rapid and reliable detection methods for mass sampling (a clear example is the receiving silos of ship cargoes, it is virtually impossible to analyse the toxin content in a representative way), and the other is to advance in toxicity studies, both chronic and pharmacokinetic. There are several authors who are re-evaluating the information already published and who question many of the works available.
In your Farmatox research group, what lines of work are you developing to create new systems to eliminate these toxins?
Our research group, Farmatox, has been working on aquatic toxins for many years, and we have only started to study mycotoxins a few years ago. This is due among other things to the fact that our spin-off (www.cifga.com) has just started the program of certified mycotoxin calibrators under the ISO 17034 standard (the only company in Spain that offers analytical standards under this standard). The elimination of mycotoxins is currently addressed by means of sequestrants that remain in the food consumed by the animal, and our commitment is to use substances or particles that can be eliminated and are not incorporated into the food. That is why we have developed magnetic nanoparticles, which can be removed by a simple neodymium magnet.
What is the use of compounds based on hybrid magnetic structures – nanoparticles – for the extraction of toxins?
They are nano, or microparticles that have surfaces of different chemical composition in order to capture the mycotoxins of interest, and their nucleus is magnetic, which allows them to be removed by applying a magnet. The advantage of this technology is that the mycotoxin is actually removed from the feed, and that the application of the particles is very simple, as they are added to the feed, and removed magnetically. This technology allows the mycotoxin to actually be removed from the feed.
What will be its applications within the broad sector of food safety in animal nutrition?
They serve to remove mycotoxins, but also freshwater toxins (from cyanobacteria), especially from liquid media.
In solid media it is necessary to use large particles, visible to the naked eye, so that they can be easily removed, and in this case it is more practical to sift than to use a magnet.
After the development of this mycotoxin adsorption method, what will be your future lines of research in this field?
We are making a great effort to identify emerging and masked toxins (toxin precursors or toxins linked to macromolecules that are then released into the body). So far the information we have indicates that there are many toxins in most of the matrices we study.
Finally, what do you think might be the best strategy to combat the presence of mycotoxins in raw materials and feedingstuffs as much as possible, and what methods of prevention and elimination would you recommend?
The best strategy is to eliminate the toxins at the source of the crop, and to pay very special attention to the form of transport, especially in international trade.
There are hot and humid countries that have serious mycotoxin problems, but others that are theoretically low risk but generate the risk during transport, or during storage.
In general, the problem of mycotoxins is growing, and I believe that it will become increasingly difficult to control.
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