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Apr 22, 2017 11:11 AM EDT

Researchers from Michigan State University have found that sunflower seeds may have been playing a significant role in the increase of health risk in several low-income countries around the world. Apparently, its seeds are often contaminated with a toxin that is produced by molds.

The team of scientists found the frequent occurrence of aflatoxin in sunflower seeds and their products. This type of toxin is produced by Aspergillus molds and commonly infect corn, peanuts, pistachios and almonds.

The study has been published in the journal "PloS ONE." It is the first to find a link between aflatoxin contamination and sunflower seeds.

According to, chronic exposure to aflatoxin has been found to be the main cause of about 25,000 to 155,000 deaths worldwide annually from corn and peanuts alone. The study was conducted in Tanzania but it is not the only place affected by the problem.

Moreover, aflatoxin is one of the most powerful liver carcinogens known. Being able to detect and limit its presence in sunflower seeds and their products is expected to help save lives as well as help minimize liver disease in areas where sunflowers and their byproducts are consumed.

Gale Strasburg, MSU food science and human nutrition professor and one of the study's co-authors, siad that high aflatoxin levels prove that local authorities must put up interventions to stop contamination along the sunflower commodity value chain. He believes that follow-up research is important to investigate the intake rates of sunflower seed products in humans and animals, to inform exposure assessments and to better understand the role of sunflower seeds and cakes as a dietary aflatoxin source.

It was noted that smallholder farmers in Tanzania grow sunflower for the seeds. They sell them to local millers who press the seeds for oil. It is then sold to local consumers for cooking while the remaining cakes are used as animal feed.

The seeds are infected by Aspergillus flavus or Aspergillus parasiticus. These are molds that produce aflatoxin.

Follows Sunflower, Sunflower Seeds, botany, Agriculture, Aflatoxin, Toxin, toxic, Mold, Michigan State University, science
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