As a global food business, we deal with challenges facing the global food chain on a daily basis. We believe we have a responsibility to explore solutions to these challenges, and to investigate novel, efficient ways of doing so, providing a clear path to healthy, safe food in the future.
Take aflatoxins, for example. They are a group of very small toxins with a big impact on the food chain. Produced by a certain fungus found in soil on crops, they contaminate essential foods like wheat, maize and peanuts. These toxins are the cause of more than 25% of liver cancer cases globally, the leading cause of disease in Nigeria, and they contaminate around 25% of the food supply. Solutions are needed as quickly as possible.
Knowing that collaboration always makes us stronger, we teamed up with University of California Davis and Thermo Fisher Scientific to tap into some of the sharpest minds around: gamers. Together we applied a technology known as Foldit, a puzzle-based video game to help solve the aflatoxin challenge. Players manipulate the chemical structure of aflatoxin seeking ways to detoxify this compound. As they solve puzzles, their crowd-sourced information creates opportunities for Mars scientists to analyze the results and recreate the most promising computer-generated designs in the lab to assess whether any designs have the potential to help eradicate aflatoxins in the future.
Since Foldit first launched in 2008, players have spent more than 50,000 hours seeking solutions using Foldit—that's the equivalent of 100 hours of full-time work! The hours have paid off: players have been instrumental in discovering major scientific breakthroughs through Foldit, including a leap forward in finding an AIDS vaccine.
With help from the global gaming community, our Associates are working towards eradicating aflatoxin more quickly and efficiently, and in a way that mutually benefits everyone involved, from the gamers to those directly impacted by this poisonous carcinogen.