22 November 2001
Grain 2001: new nose sniffs out fungi

By FARMERS WEEKLY staff

AN electronic nose could become the new way to sniff out grain store problems before they become serious.

The equipment can detect odours from attacking fungi long before they can be seen with the naked eye or the grain becomes musty.

Developed over three years at the West of England University and Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association, the grain nose received 300,000 of Home-Grown Cereals Authority funding.

The idea stems from an EU project to find an easier way to detect taints in Parma ham.

Work at CCFRA has found that each fungus emits a unique combination of volatile organic compounds.

“Its a bit like a fingerprint, explains the universitys Peter Spencer-Phillips.

It works through a 2mm square ceramic chip, whose electrical conductivity varies according to the different smells given off when infected grain is heated to release the volatiles.

That property is converted into a computer read-out which can be compared against thresholds identified as being troublesome.

Detecting fungi early is important so that remedial action can be taken, says Dr Spencer-Phillips.

Some, like Penicillin aurantiogriseum which causes grain blue eye and Fusarium culmorum which sticks them together with a fine mycelium, soon become obvious under poor storage.

“But others, like P vericorum, are probably more important because they also produce mycotoxins though you cant see them so well.

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