Fighting the global battle against mycotoxins

After an opening day of “big picture” presentations, the Biomin World Nutrition Forum continued with attention turning to mycotoxins and strategies for a solution.

Dr. Felicia Wu, University of Pittsburgh, speaks to attendees at the Biomin World Nutrition Forum about mycotoxin control efforts.
Dr. Felicia Wu, University of Pittsburgh, speaks to attendees at the Biomin World Nutrition Forum about mycotoxin control efforts.

Working under the banner of "Nutrieconomics – Balancing Global Nutrition and Productivity as People, Performance, Profit, Planet," day two of Biomin’s World Nutrition Forum in Singapore featured an array of speakers who addressed many different aspects of mycotoxins.

The keynote address on day two was by Dr. Felicia Wu of the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Wu offered her thoughts on mycotoxin control by using a model based on insights from public health and infectious disease control. The objective was to see what could be learned from public health efforts of the past.

Register for a free webinar October 23 on mycotoxin strategies: Mycotoxin strategies for the 2012 corn harvest.

Pre-natal care  

The first of Dr. Wu’s examples was that of pre-natal care, offering that plant breeding was a similar concept. Just as a pregnant woman receives a number of different services to ensure a healthy delivery, Dr. Wu suggested that the same could be seen in the realm of plant breeding, as the practice is intended to give plants the best chance at success. Specifically she cited “conventional” and transgenic breeding methods that have produced at least some measure of success in reducing fungal infection and mycotoxin growth as a control opportunity.


Dr. Wu noted that around the world, when good sanitation practices are implemented, mortality rates inevitably decrease. For humans, this would include such things as clean water and food, washing hands with soap, construction of toilets and good sewer systems. Similarly, in agriculture one can look at good agricultural practices. These include such things as crop rotation, tillage, planting dates, irrigation, fertilization, pest control, proper drying, storage, and sorting and disposal of moldy kernels.


The analogy of vaccines was another idea presented by Dr. Wu. In this case, she defined vaccine as “any inoculated material that precedes immunity.” She cited smallpox as an example. Switching to agriculture, she suggested that vaccines can be seen as a type of bio-control, and that one could apply the “harmless” version of a microbe to prevent damage from a more harmful one. In specific, she noted application of atoxigenic strains of Aspergilli to fight off toxigenic strains, with virtually no aflatoxin in the final crop.\


Just as quarantines have worked historically in controlling outbreaks of infectious diseases, the same concept can easily be applied to crops according to Dr. Wu. In this case, the quarantine would involve removing kernels that were obviously moldy. The sorting could be done either by hand or by industrial methods. While not an absolute solution, this would reduce the overall contamination load within food.


Since antibiotics may be defined as compounds that kill bacteria or slow their growth, there is a clear analogy to fungicides when looking at mycotoxins. However, Dr. Wu noted that the efficiency of available fungicides depends heavily on a number of factors, including such things as application timing, local weather conditions and existing fungal loads. Concluding, Dr. Wu observed “Eradication of mycotoxin is unlikely in the near future, but thoughtful prevention and control is crucial."

Other observations  

In the speeches following the keynote address, additional views, thoughts and research regarding mycotoxins were offered. Dr. Shohei Sakuda of the University of Tokyo spoke about recent advances in mycotoxin research in Japan. Dr. Sakuda noted that while mycotoxin contamination is not a large problem in Japan, research is being done there because Japan imports large amounts of crop material from other countries.

Dr. Wentzel C.A. Gelderblom, University of Stellenbosch, spoke about the history and relevance of fumonisins, and Dr. R. Russell M. Paterson, Universidade do Minho, spoke about climate change, fumonisins and animal feed. Looking ahead, Dr. Paterson noted that while large areas of the globe will remain good for the production of maize, fumonisins will compromise the quality of the maize. At the same time, areas of the globe will become unsuitable for maize production, so in those places mycotoxins will not be a real concern. New areas will become available for maize growth, but in order to keep those crops at a high quality, both industry and governments will need to launch initiatives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and repairing existing damage.

Dr. Ron Riley of the USDA spoke about studies to assess exposure to fumonisin and birth defects. These studies are ongoing. Dr. Franz Berthiller, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, spoke about masked mycotoxins, reviewing research that has been done to date. In this area, additional studies will depend on the availability of sufficient amounts of masked mycotoxins. Dr. Isabelle P. Oswald, French National Institute for Agricultural Research, closed out the morning sessions by speaking about the enzymatic detoxification of mycotoxins, noting that hydrolysis of Fumonisin B1 strongly reduced the toxicity for piglets.

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