NC1183: Mycotoxins in a Changing World

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active


Statement of Issues and Justification

The need, as indicated by stakeholders, and likely impacts from completion of the work

Grain and livestock producers need to minimize mycotoxin contamination of food, forage, and feed to reduce the deleterious effects of mycotoxins on consumers and livestock. The presence of zearalenone in swine feeds has led to serious issues for the industry in recent years.  In particular, ingestion of zearalenone contaminated feed can result in uterine prolapse in sows ending their breeding life.  Plant breeders have had success in producing plants with some resistance to mycotoxigenic fungi; however, this resistance does not always correlate with reduced mycotoxin contamination. This confounding issue needs to be understood and resolved to improve plant breeding strategies and for seed producers to be able to generate clean viable seed.  Additionally, cost-effective methods to predict, monitor, and minimize mycotoxin production in the field, and to detoxify mycotoxins and prevent further deterioration in contaminated feed, are needed by producers of grain and livestock. The lowering of tolerance limits for mycotoxins in overseas markets has increased the burden for grain buyers and food processors; currently, levels of mycotoxins that are acceptable for some US products are unacceptable in European and Asian markets, resulting in non-tariff trade barriers.  The EU is considering regulating up to 30 additional compounds.  If implemented this will require US grain and livestock producers be able to assess and prevent presence of these mycotoxins above regulatory limits.  Finally, workers who are responsible for animal and human health need information about the toxicity, carcinogenicity, modes of action, and biomarkers of exposure and disease for all categories of mycotoxins. This information would be used to train health-care providers to identify exposure and treat related disease, as well as to develop accurate risk assessment

The importance of the work, and consequences if it is not done

Mycotoxins are a serious, chronic problem throughout the cereal- and forage-producing regions of the U.S. If research is not applied broadly to address this problem, serious negative consequences will result. First, the presence of mycotoxins is an important health hazard. Accurate hazard assessments are essential in order to maintain exposures by animal and human consumers within safe limits. We propose basic research to define the toxicity of several important mycotoxins. Without this information, it is impossible to assess the risks associated with these mycotoxins. Additionally, the presence of mycotoxins in grain is an economic concern, especially in the context of global markets. Without an aggressive research program to prevent, treat, and contain outbreaks of mycotoxins in grain, U.S. grain producers suffer the consequences of reduced marketability of their products. Furthermore, the proposed research addresses biosecurity concerns. The natural occurrence of mycotoxins in grain is an important security concern for producers and end-users of the grain globally. Without a proactive research program to find innovative ways to monitor, prevent, and treat mycotoxin contamination of grains and forage, US agriculture will be unprepared to deal effectively with a mycotoxin outbreak, regardless of its origin. Finally, the production of mycotoxins by mycotoxigenic fungi in grains and forage represents a continuing problem in agriculture that reduces food safety and security.  Linkages with international efforts will leverage expertise and promote mycotoxin mitigation in developing countries.  In a changing world, food security is a component of political stability and in US national security interest.  Improving our understanding of factors relevant to allowing these fungi to colonize their hosts, and how mycotoxin biosynthesis is regulated, will not only lead to novel treatment strategies, but will also advance our understanding of fungal pathogenesis in general.  

The advantages for doing the work as a multistate effort and the technical feasibility of the research.

The scientists involved in this multistate, multidisciplinary research proposal bring a broad diversity of expertise on mycotoxin issues related to their respective disciplines. Just as agriculture is diverse and varies greatly from state to state (and in many instances, within a given state), the occurrence and severity of mycotoxin outbreaks vary widely across the US. A multistate effort ensures a thorough approach to investigate a complex and highly variable phenomenon that has significant impacts on both producers and consumers. Simultaneously, the differing experiences and expertise of the members are accessible to the whole, facilitating multistate collaborations that result in joint manuscripts and research proposals. Many such collaborations of long standing exist within the body of the research group. Due to the wide range of experience and expertise of the group, the proposed research is technically feasible.

What the likely impacts will be from successfully completing the work

The work will address the needs of the stakeholders. Outputs will include information on the action of mycotoxins in livestock and animal models. This information will be applicable to the risk assessment process.  Bio-edited plants and potential biological control agents will be generated to address management of mycotoxin formation in the field.  Information will be generated to address the need for management practices that help prevent mycotoxin-related problems during grain and forage production, handling, storage, processing, and consumption. Finally, we will generate important basic knowledge about major groups of mycotoxigenic fungi, and the biochemical and molecular factors that regulate the biosynthesis of aflatoxins, endophyte alkaloid toxins, and Fusarium-associated mycotoxins including deoxynivalenol, fumonisins, and zearalenone. This will reveal critical points in the regulation where targeted controls can be developed.  Students trained will contribute to the scientific workforce with expertise in mycotoxicology and a broad perspective through interaction with the multi-state group composed of scientists in multiple disciplines.  

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