Martí-Franqučs COFUND Fellowship Programme


Login to the application



Engineering and Architecture

Supervisor name and surname:

Ciara O` Sullivan

Supervisor email:

Supervisor short biography

Co-supervisor name and surname:

Marketa Svobodova

Co-supervisor email:

Co-supervisor institution:

Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Co-supervisor short biography

PhD programme:

Nanoscience, Materials and Chemical Engineering

Title of the research project:

Molecular tools for the rapid and cost-effective detection of mycotoxins

Description of the research project:

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations states that nearly 25% of food produced in the world is affected by toxigenic fungi, leading to mycotoxins entering the food chain. Mycotoxins are small secondary metabolites of moulds that can cause adverse acute and chronic effects on human and animal health, with side effects affecting the liver, kidney, nervous system, endocrine and immune systems. Some mycotoxins are carcinogenic, some are vasoactive, and often a single mycotoxin can cause more than one type of toxic effect.
There are only assays / kits / rapid tests available for a handful of the numerous harmful mycotoxins, and none of the rapid tests can differentiate the different types of aflatoxins (e.g. B1, B2, M1, G1, G2), ochratoxins (A, B, C), fumonisins (B1, B2, B3). Furthermore all the rapid tests are based on the use of antibodies, incurring high costs associated with antibody production, and potentially suffering from problems due to stability and a lack of specificity. Thus the demand gap the project and consequent commercial products that will result from the project, is the development and commercialisation of rapid tests based on aptamers.
Concretely, within the proposed project aptamers will be selected against a number of relevant mycotoxins. The aptamers will be optimised and applied to their use in lateral flow assays for the detection of a myriad of mycotoxins in food and feed samples. A universal extraction protocol will be developed to extract all relevant mycotoxins from food and feed samples. This extraction protocol will be facilely deployed at the point of need via a simple eppendorf tube hand-shaken extraction followed by placement of the lateral flow in the eppendorf tube and quantitative detection facilitated by Smartphone enabled ImageJ analysis. Aptamers have the added advantage over antibodies as they are compatible with the solvents that are required for extraction of mycotoxins. The cost of an optimised aptamer can be as much as 1000 times less expensive than its antibody counterpart, and it is known that aptamers are stable in unrefrigerated conditions and at extreme temperature and humidity levels. Additionally, the lateral flow assays will be capable of quantitative detection.
These aptamer based rapid tests:
(i) Will be capable of far better sensitivity, specificity and detection limits than that achievable using antibody based lateral flow assays;
(ii) Will be several orders of magnitude less expensive due to the inherent relative inexpensiveness of DNA as compared to antibodies;
(iii) Will be able to differentiate different types of each of the mycotoxin families e.g. each of the alfatoxins, fumonisins, ochratoxins etc., which is currently not possible with the existing antibody based rapid test
(iv) Will have far enhanced storage stability, even under extreme conditions;
(v) Be patentable and commercially exploitable and offer competitiveness.

Gross anual salary:

26443.80 €


Full time

Working hours:

37.5 hours a week

Expected start date:

European union This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 713679