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Significant progress for Epigem in SYMPHONY aflatoxin research

Epigem, as part of the SYMPHONY consortium, is making great progress in aflatoxin detection. It has developed, using microfluidics, a de-fatting device which is as efficient as a centrifuge and will reduce animal tests times from hours to minutes. This is an essential first step in producing an instrument which analyses aflatoxin in milk quickly and efficiently at the dairy gate, farm gate or indeed the cow’s udder.

For the de-fatter to be successful, Epigem needed to process hundreds of mls of milk in a few minutes. The de-fatting takes place continuously, microfluidicly, by numbering up multiple devices. The next step for Epigem is to concentrate the toxin from the de-fatted milk, by trapping, in order to detect around 20 parts per trillion of aflatoxin.

The concentrate will be analysed for aflatoxin using existing Epigem technology. This allows up to 50% of the aflatoxin to be trapped and Epigem is now researching ways to trap 100% of the toxin.

FBK, based in Italy, is helping to characterise the de-fatter, while Acreo in Sweden is working on the concentrator. Together the partners are developing a system to measure aflatoxin in real time.

In 2013, Epigem secured €499k to play a key role in SYMPHONY (European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-ICT-2013-10) under grant agreement n° 610580) an integrated systems project to improve the quality and safety of milk by analysing for aflatoxin. The aim of SYMPHONY is the development of an online system for the detection of aflatoxin M1 in milk for the dairy industry, which could ultimately enable testing of these carcinogens to be carried out at an individual farm or dairy level.

Epigem is undertaking the manufacturing of all of the microfluidic components that will be integrated into the sensor, which will test the quality of the milk overall and will also be a form of fast measurement for aflatoxin.

Aflatoxin M1 is a milk contaminant and potent carcinogen. It is a metabolite of aflatoxin B1, which is produced by the ubiquitous fungus Aspergillus flavus. In certain climates, the fungus produces aflatoxin B1 and contaminates animal feed. Following the ingestion of spoiled feed, aflatoxin B1 is hydroxylated creating in the liver, aflatoxin M1.

Aflatoxin M1 is then secreted into milk, with an elapse time of about 12 hours and a peak time of about 24 hours. Aflatoxin M1 is absorbed onto milk proteins, mainly casein. The remaining fraction is partitioned in the cream part of milk. It is thermostable and thus is not deactivated by pasteurisation or UHT treatment.