The University of Valencia (UV) and Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) have patented a method to detect the patulin toxin in foods by using antibodies. Patulin is produced by several species of fungi, which can contaminate food, especially apples. It is commonly found in products derived from apples, including foods for the child population.
The research group of the Department of Organic Chemistry “Synthesis of Molecules for Biotechnological Applications” (SYMBOIA), headed by UV lecturers Antonio Abad and Consuelo Agulló, in collaboration with researchers from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA) of the CSIC, have developed a new analytical method that makes it possible to detect patulin in food in a fast and ultra-sensitive way.
Patulin was the single relevant mycotoxin present in foods for which there was no immunoanalytical method, the system of choice of the agri-food industry to detect mycotoxins thanks to their high sensitivity and specificity, low cost and analysis capabilities.
Given its toxicity – the acute symptoms this toxin causes include damage to the liver, spleen and kidney, as well as toxicity for the immune system and possible genotoxicity -, the European Food Safety Authority has established very demanding maximum levels of patulin in apples and, especially, in foods for babies and infants.
The traditional methods to detect this type of compounds are based on chromatographic separation coupled with mass spectrometry, and require sophisticated and expensive equipment as well as specialized personnel. On the other hand, immunoanalytical methods are based on the detection with antibodies, which makes them faster, easier and more affordable.
Until now it had not been possible to generate antibodies against patulin due to its small size and high reactivity. The method developed by the research groups of the UV and IATA is a new approach based on the high reactivity of patulin with thiols, and involves their prior derivatization in their own matrix, without requiring isolation and purification. This procedure, which has recently been patented, is the first immunoassay developed for this mycotoxin that is capable of establishing its presence in food in a fast and affordable way.
Companies Abraxis-Eurofins (USA) and R-Biopharm Rhône (Scotland), world leaders in the immunodiagnosis sector in food, will exploit this patent, which will allow them to be the sole suppliers of fast methods for the analysis of patulin in food. The goal is to commercialize the technology developed at the UV-IATA around the world using different immunochemical methods of analysis.