Russian scientists are developing a sensor to detect toxins in grain

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SUSU scientists have studied how effective the electrochemical method is in detecting mycotoxins in grain. Based on this data, a sensor will be created that responds to zearalenone, a toxin produced by moulds. The work will be carried out within the framework of the RFBR grant. The first results were published in the highly-rated magazine FoodChemistry (Q1).

On some crops and foodstuffs, moulds grow, producing mycotoxins—a poison of biological origin. Mycotoxins are dangerous for humans when eaten, they cause intoxication, and in some cases lead to cancer and immunodeficiency.

Mycotoxin detection is a food safety issue in every country. For this purpose, sensors that react to mycotoxins are used in the agrosphere. Using zearalenone as an example, scientists at South Ural State University studied the methods of detecting toxins available today and determined their effectiveness.

Zearalenone is found in corn, barley, wheat, rice, and sorghum. It is produced by Fusarium fungi, mainly Fusariumgraminearum, Fusariumcerealis, and Fusariumculmorum. Analyzes from 2010-2015 showed that in Europe about 80% of grain was contaminated with Zearalenone, in addition, other mycotoxins were added to it.

A literature review was carried out by Oleg Bolshakov, senior researcher at the SUSU Nanotechnology REC, as well as by a research group led by Ph.D. Natalia Beloglazova from the University of Ghent demonstrated that electrochemical sensors are ideal for detecting zearalenone.

“Most electrochemical sensors that respond to zearalenone are voltammetric. There is evidence of high sensitivity of impedance sensors, but they are not the most suitable method for monitoring low molecular weight compounds such as mycotoxins. From this point of view, capacitive sensors are better, but they remain unexplored,” commented Oleg Bolshakov.

The only drawback of electrochemical sensors now is testing only on samples with artificial additives. No analyzes have been carried out on raw materials, although objective studies must be supported by the results of work with samples with natural contamination.

Working with theoretical sources was the first step towards creating your electrochemical sensor. It uses semiconductor materials synthesized at SUSU. Now screening is being carried out for their sensory activity, depending on the basis: molecularly doped carbon nitride, poly-triazine-imide, quantum dots, and others.

“All of these materials demonstrate the required levels of selectivity, signal speed, and, most importantly, reproducibility. Recently, promising results have been obtained on the selective detection of hazardous mycotoxins with materials based on composite microparticles consisting of titanium oxide and carbon nitride,” added Oleg Bolshakov.

The study is carried out within the framework of the RFBR-Chelyabinsk project “Development of ratiometric nanosensors based on modified nanoparticles (quantum and carbon particles) of a new generation for highly selective determination of pollutants in water”.

South Ural State University (SUSU) is a university of digital transformations, where innovative research is conducted in most of the priority areas of development of science and technology. Following the strategy of scientific and technological development of the Russian Federation, the university is focused on the development of large scientific interdisciplinary projects in the field of the digital industry, materials science, and ecology. In the Year of Science and Technology, SUSU will take part in the competition under the Priority-2030 program. The university performs the functions of a regional project office of the Ural interregional world-class scientific and educational center (UMNOTs).