Mycotoxin contamination of cereals is one of the most significant issues worldwide and huge efforts are being put into defining successful and effective managing strategies. Ever since the idea of MyToolBox was born, members of the team from the PFNS (University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Agriculture, Serbia) dedicated themselves to completing tasks that will lead to reduction of mycotoxin contamination. It is not often that we get an opportunity to be a part of a global team of experts and institutions, so our motivation derived from the possibility to make good networking, but most of all, to give our contribution to solving aflatoxin contamination problem in maize production which was the major problem in 2012 in Serbia, said Dr. Ferenc Bagi, team leader for PFNS. Group of five scientists (four plant pathologists: Dr. Ferenc Bagi, Dr. Vera Stojšin, Dr. Mila Grahovac and Dr. Dragana Budakov and one mycotoxin specialist: Dr. Igor Jajić) together with administration staff (Dr. Dragana Savić and Sonja Vučinić), PhD students and technical staff are working on fulfillment of proposed tasks with one Serbian partner from the agricultural industry (Agrocentrum, Bečej, Serbia). Main responsibilities of PFNS consist of finding solutions to control mycotoxin contamination by using maize hybrids of different susceptibility to Aspergillus flavus ear rot. This investigation is done throughout field trials and maize ears are being artificially inoculated with the fungus. Even though this is both time and labor consuming work, it is highly satisfying to observe that different genetics react in a way to help select for more resistant maize genotypes. By the end of the project, it is expected to select for genetics that will be the least susceptible to A. flavus infections and hence mycotoxin contamination. The other part of PFNS project task is a selection of atoxigenic Aspergillus flavus which will be used as a biocontrol agent. This idea derived from a member of MyToolBox advisory consortia Dr. Peter Cotty, who did a lot of similar work throughout the whole world and who took over a responsibility to train staff from PFNS to select and apply for most effective biocontrol agent. During the training in Peter Cotty’s lab in Tucson, Arizona, USA, several isolates of atoxigenic Aspergillus flavus were targeted as possible biocontrol agents and one of them was selected to be tested for effectiveness during the first year of field trials. Even though results of first tests showed that mycotoxin contamination was significantly reduced in treated plots, PFNS team members are still working on evaluation of product efficacy through vegetative compatibility tests of isolates selected from treated fields.
Further activities will include protection of intellectual property and patent application for atoxigenic A. flavus as a biocontrol agent as soon as its efficacy is evaluated. Hopefully, future application of this isolate as a commercial product will leave a mark of an excellent and successful collaboration of the whole MyToolBox consortia.