A natural, biodegradable spray made from cornstarch could help farmers protect their crops from toxic substances from fungi.
The spray, actually considered a bioplastic, delivers beneficial microbes that help fight off pathogens, including aflatoxins, which are produced by some strains of Aspergillus fungi.
Aflatoxins are dangerous in high quantities and are known to cause liver disease and cancer in humans, fish, livestock and domestic pets, among other animals. Harmful aflatoxins can contaminate crops like cotton, corn and peanuts.
These toxins are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and crops with more than 20 parts per billion of aflatoxins cannot be sold. Each year, farmers in the U.S. lose up to $500 million in contaminated crops.
The crop protection spray, developed by pathologists Hamed Abbas and Cesar Accinelli, was found to reduce aflatoxin contamination in corn by up to 97% in studies conducted in 2016 and 2017.
The sprayable nature of this product makes it easier for farmers to coat the soil and all parts of the crops with the beneficial microbes, which come from strains of Aspergillus that do not produce aflatoxins.
“With the sprayable method, we don’t have to put the beneficial fungus or spore on a granule of bioplastic,” Abbas said in a press release “We melt the bioplastic into a liquid, mix in the biological control agent—a nontoxic, beneficial Aspergillus in this case—and then spray it on the plants or coat the seeds with it.”
The cornstarch in the spray helps it stick to plants. With a long shelf life and inexpensive production process, this spray is potentially a sustainable long-term crop protection solution.