An award-winning science project by two Cape Town matric pupils could save thousands of lives.
Khayelitsha teens Kholiswa Ntshinga, 18, and Yolanda Nkala, 17, have discovered low-cost ways to reduce the amount of mycotoxin contaminating maize.
Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals produced by the fungi found on crops.
Mycotoxin-contaminated food consumed in high volumes could lead to nervous system damage, stunting, and liver and oesophageal cancer.
The girls tested maize grown by communities in three areas in Eastern Cape for mycotoxins. None of the maize had been exposed to pesticides.
Ntshinga said maize was the staple food of many people in rural areas who survive on subsistence farming.
“Men in these areas had oesophageal cancer caused by contaminated maize used in traditional beer,” she said.
The teenagers were able to reduce the mycotoxin contamination by 98%.
Wentzel Gelderblom, director of the Institute of Biomedical and Microbial Biotechnology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said their research could help save many lives .
“These young girls are brilliant. They are now part of a global scientific community that is finding ways to eliminate human exposure to mycotoxins and we need more of that.”
The girls recently returned from the Beijing International Science Fair, at which they won silver medals in the medicines category and a special award for innovation in agriculture.
They were chosen to represent South Africa after winning gold medals at Cape Town’s Expo for Young Scientists and at Eskom Expo’s International Science Fair last year.