A mycotoxin (from Greek μύκης (mykes, mukos) "fungus" and τοξικόν (toxikon) "poison") is a toxic secondary metabolite produced by organisms of the fungi kingdom, commonly known as molds. The term 'mycotoxin' is usually reserved for the toxic chemical products produced by fungi that readily colonize crops. One mold species may produce many different mycotoxins, and the same mycotoxin may be produced by several species.
Most fungi are aerobic (use oxygen) and are found almost everywhere in extremely small quantities due to the minute size of their spores. They consume organic matter wherever humidity and temperature are sufficient. Where conditions are right, fungi proliferate into colonies and mycotoxin levels become high. The reason for the production of mycotoxins is not yet known; they are not necessary for the growth or the development of the fungi. Because mycotoxins weaken the receiving host, the fungus may use them as a strategy to better the environment for further fungal proliferation. The production of toxins depends on the surrounding intrinsic and extrinsic environments and the toxins vary greatly in their severity, depending on the organism infected and its susceptibility, metabolism, and defense mechanisms. Some of the health effects found in animals and humans include death, identifiable diseases or health problems, weakened immune systems without specificity to a toxin, and as allergens or irritants. Some mycotoxins are harmful to other micro-organisms such as other fungi or even bacteria; penicillin is one example. It has been suggested that mycotoxins in stored animal feed are the cause of rare phenotypical sex changes in hens that causes them to look and act male. 
Mycotoxins can appear in the food chain as a result of fungal infection of crops, either by being eaten directly by humans or by being used as livestock feed. Mycotoxins greatly resist decomposition or being broken down in digestion, so they remain in the food chain in meat and dairy products. Even temperature treatments, such as cooking and freezing, do not destroy some mycotoxins.  
Although various wild mushrooms contain an assortment of poisons that are definitely fungal metabolites causing noteworthy health problems for humans, they are rather arbitrarily excluded from discussions of mycotoxicology. In such cases the distinction is based on the size of the producing fungus and human intention. Mycotoxin exposure is almost always accidental whereas with mushrooms improper identification and ingestion causing mushroom poisoning is commonly the case. Ingestion of misidentified mushrooms containing mycotoxins may result in hallucinations. The cyclopeptide-producing Amanita phalloides is well known for its toxic potential and is responsible for approximately 90% of all mushroom fatalities. The other primary mycotoxin groups found in mushrooms include: orellanine, monomethylhydrazine, disulfiram-like, hallucinogenic indoles, muscarinic, isoxazole, and gastrointestinal (GI)-specific irritants. The bulk of this article is about mycotoxins that are found in microfungi other than poisons from mushrooms or macroscopic fungi.
Many international agencies are trying to achieve universal standardization of regulatory limits for mycotoxins. Currently, over 100 countries have regulations regarding mycotoxins in the feed industry, in which 13 mycotoxins or groups of mycotoxins are of concern. The process of assessing a need for mycotoxin regulation includes a wide array of in-laboratory testing that includes extracting, clean-up and separation techniques. Most official regulations and control methods are based on high-performance liquid techniques (e.g., HPLC) through international bodies. It is implied that any regulations regarding these toxins will be in co-ordinance with any other countries with which a trade agreement exists. Many of the standards for the method performance analysis for mycotoxins is set by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). However, one must take note that scientific risk assessment is commonly influenced by culture and politics, which, in turn, will affect trade regulations of mycotoxins.
Food-based mycotoxins were studied extensively worldwide throughout the 20th century. In Europe, statutory levels of a range of mycotoxins permitted in food and animal feed are set by a range of European directives and Commission regulations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has regulated and enforced limits on concentrations of mycotoxins in foods and feed industries since 1985. It is through various compliance programs that the FDA monitors these industries to guarantee that mycotoxins are kept at a practical level. These compliance programs sample food products including peanuts and peanut products, tree nuts, corn and corn products, cottonseed, and milk. There is still a lack of sufficient surveillance data on some mycotoxins that occur in the U.S., which is due largely to the lack of reliable analytical methods.
Aflatoxins are a type of mycotoxin produced by Aspergillus species of fungi, such as A. flavus and A. parasiticus. The umbrella term aflatoxin refers to four different types of mycotoxins produced, which are B1, B2, G1, and G2. Aflatoxin B1, the most toxic, is a potent carcinogen and has been directly correlated to adverse health effects, such as liver cancer, in many animal species. Aflatoxins are largely associated with commodities produced in the tropics and subtropics, such as cotton, peanuts, spices, pistachios and maize.
Ochratoxin is a mycotoxin that comes in three secondary metabolite forms, A, B, and C. All are produced by Penicillium and Aspergillus species. The three forms differ in that Ochratoxin B (OTB) is a nonchlorinated form of Ochratoxin A (OTA) and that Ochratoxin C (OTC) is an ethyl ester form Ochratoxin A. Aspergillus ochraceus is found as a contaminant of a wide range of commodities including beverages such as beer and wine. Aspergillus carbonarius is the main species found on vine fruit, which releases its toxin during the juice making process. OTA has been labeled as a carcinogen and a nephrotoxin, and has been linked to tumors in the human urinary tract, although research in humans is limited by confounding factors.
Citrinin is a toxin that was first isolated from Penicillium citrinum, but has been identified in over a dozen species of Penicillium and several species of Aspergillus. Some of these species are used to produce human foodstuffs such as cheese (Penicillium camemberti), sake, miso, and soy sauce (Aspergillus oryzae). Citrinin is associated with yellowed rice disease in Japan and acts as a nephrotoxin in all animal species tested. Although it is associated with many human foods (wheat, rice, corn, barley, oats, rye, and food colored with Monascus pigment) its full significance for human health is unknown. Citrinin can also act synergistically with Ochratoxin A to depress RNA synthesis in murine kidneys.
Ergot Alkaloids are compounds produced as a toxic mixture of alkaloids in the sclerotia of species of Claviceps, which are common pathogens of various grass species. The ingestion of ergot sclerotia from infected cereals, commonly in the form of bread produced from contaminated flour, cause ergotism the human disease historically known as St. Anthony's Fire. There are two forms of ergotism: gangrenous, affecting blood supply to extremities, and convulsive, affecting the central nervous system. Modern methods of grain cleaning have significantly reduced ergotism as a human disease, however it is still an important veterinary problem. Ergot alkaloids have been used pharmaceutically.
Patulin is a toxin produced by the P. expansum, Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Paecilomyces fungal species. P. expansum is especially associated with a range of moldy fruits and vegetables, in particular rotting apples and figs. It is destroyed by the fermentation process and so is not found in apple beverages, such as cider. Although patulin has not been shown to be carcinogenic, it has been reported to damage the immune system in animals. In 2004, the European Community set limits to the concentrations of patulin in food products. They currently stand at 50 μg/kg in all fruit juice concentrations, at 25 μg/kg in solid apple products used for direct consumption, and at 10 μg/kg for children's apple products, including apple juice.
Fusarium toxins are produced by over 50 species of Fusarium and have a history of infecting the grain of developing cereals such as wheat and maize. They include a range of mycotoxins, such as: the fumonisins, which affect the nervous systems of horses and may cause cancer in rodents; the trichothecenes, which are most strongly associated with chronic and fatal toxic effects in animals and humans; and zearalenone, which is not correlated to any fatal toxic effects in animals or humans. Some of the other major types of Fusarium toxins include: beauvercin and enniatins, butenolide, equisetin, and fusarins.
Binding agents and deactivators
In the feed and food industry it has become common practice to add mycotoxin binding agents such as Montmorillonite or bentonite clay in order to affectively adsorb the mycotoxins. To reverse the adverse effects of mycotoxins, the following criteria are used to evaluate the functionality of any binding additive:
- Efficacy of active component verified by scientific data
- A low effective inclusion rate
- Stability over a wide pH range
- High capacity to absorb high concentrations of mycotoxins
- High affinity to absorb low concentrations of mycotoxins
- Affirmation of chemical interaction between mycotoxin and adsorbent
- Proven in vivo data with all major mycotoxins
- Non-toxic, environmentally friendly component
Since not all mycotoxins can be bound to such agents, the latest approach to mycotoxin control is mycotoxin deactivation. By means of enzymes (esterase, de-epoxidase), yeast (Trichosporon mycotoxinvorans) or bacterial strains (Eubacterium BBSH 797), mycotoxins can be reduced during pre-harvesting contamination. Other removal methods include physical separation, washing, milling, heat-treatment, radiation, extraction with solvents, and the use of chemical or biological agents. Irradiation methods have proven to be effective treatment against mold growth and toxin production.
In the indoor environment
Buildings are another source of mycotoxins and people living or working in areas with mold increase their chances of adverse health effects. Molds growing in buildings can be divided into three groups — primary, secondary, and tertiary colonizers. Each group is categorized by the ability to grow at a certain water activity requirement. It has become difficult to identify mycotoxin production by indoor molds for many variables, such as (i) they may be masked as derivatives (ii) they are poorly documented and (iii) the fact that they are likely to produce different metabolites on building materials. Some of the mycotoxins in the indoor environment are produced by Alternaria, Aspergillus (multiple forms), Penicillium, and Stachybotrys. Stachybotrys chartarum contains a higher number of mycotoxins than other molds grown in the indoor environment and has been associated with allergies and respiratory inflammation. The infestation of S. chartarum in buildings containing gypsum board, as well as on ceiling tiles, is very common and has recently become a more recognized problem. When gypsum board has been repeatedly introduced to moisture S. chartarum grows readily on its cellulose face. This stresses the importance of moisture controls and ventilation within residential homes and other buildings. The negative health effects of mycotoxins are a function of the concentration, the duration of exposure and the subject's sensitivities. The concentrations experienced in a normal home, office or school are often too low to trigger a health response in occupants.
In the 1990s, public concern over mycotoxins increased following multimillion-dollar toxic mold settlements. The lawsuits took place after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) did a study in Cleveland, Ohio and claimed that there was an association between mycotoxins from Stachybotrys spores and pulmonary hemorrhage in infants. However, in 2000, based on internal and external reviews of their data, the CDC concluded that because of flaws in their methods, the association was not proven. Stachybotrys spores in animal studies have been shown to cause lung hemorrhaging, but only at very high concentrations.
One study by the Center of Integrative Toxicology at Michigan State University investigated the causes of Damp Building Related Illness (DBRI). They found that Stachybotrys is possibly an important contributing factor to DBRI. So far animal models indicate that airway exposure to S. chartarum can evoke allergic sensitization, inflammation, and cytotoxicity in the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Trichothecene toxicity appears to be an underlying cause of many of these adverse effects. Recent findings indicate that lower doses (studies usually involve high doses) can cause these symptoms.
Some toxicologists have used the Concentration of No Toxicological Concern (CoNTC) measure to represent the airborne concentration of mycotoxins that are expected to cause no hazard to humans (exposed continuously throughout a 70–yr lifetime). The resulting data of several studies have thus far demonstrated that common exposures to airborne mycotoxins in the built indoor environment are below the CoNTC, however agricultural environments have potential to produce levels greater than the CoNTC.
Human health effects
Mycotoxicosis is the term used for poisoning associated with exposures to mycotoxins. The symptoms of mycotoxicosis depend on the type of mycotoxin; the concentration and length of exposure; as well as age, health, and sex of the exposed individual. The synergistic effects associated with several other factors such as genetics, diet, and interactions with other toxins have been poorly studied. Therefore, it is possible that vitamin deficiency, caloric deprivation, alcohol abuse, and infectious disease status can all have compounded effects with mycotoxins. In turn, mycotoxins have the potential for both acute and chronic health effects via ingestion, skin contact, and inhalation. These toxins can enter the blood stream and lymphatic system; they inhibit protein synthesis, damage macrophage systems, inhibit particle clearance of the lung, and increase sensitivity to bacterial endotoxin.
In 2004 in Kenya, 125 people died and nearly 200 others were treated after eating aflatoxin-contaminated maize. The deaths were mainly associated with homegrown maize that had not been treated with fungicides or properly dried before storage. Due to food shortages at the time, farmers may have been harvesting maize earlier than normal to prevent thefts from their fields, so that the grain had not fully matured and was more susceptible to infection.
In animal food
Mycotoxins are used as the basis for the infection in the 2013 release of "The Last of Us" for the PlayStation 3 and its remastering for PlayStation 4. A warning sign in one of the abandoned cities in the game reads "MYCOTOXINS" with fine print seeming to list the signs and symptoms of the game's fictional human infection. (In reality, a biological toxin, while poisonous, does not cause an "infection".)
- Harper, Douglas. "myco". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Harper, Douglas. "toxin". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Richard JL (2007). "Some major mycotoxins and their mycotoxicoses—an overview". Int. J. Food Microbiol. 119 (1–2): 3–10. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2007.07.019. PMID 17719115.
- Turner NW, Subrahmanyam S, Piletsky SA (2009). "Analytical methods for determination of mycotoxins: a review". Anal. Chim. Acta 632 (2): 168–80. doi:10.1016/j.aca.2008.11.010. PMID 19110091.
- Robbins CA, Swenson LJ, Nealley ML, Gots RE, Kelman BJ (2000). "Health effects of mycotoxins in indoor air: a critical review". Appl. Occup. Environ. Hyg. 15 (10): 773–84. doi:10.1080/10473220050129419. PMID 11036728.
- Fox EM, Howlett BJ (2008). "Secondary metabolism: regulation and role in fungal biology". Curr. Opin. Microbiol. 11 (6): 481–7. doi:10.1016/j.mib.2008.10.007. PMID 18973828.
- Hussein HS, Brasel JM (2001). "Toxicity, metabolism, and impact of mycotoxins on humans and animals". Toxicology 167 (2): 101–34. doi:10.1016/S0300-483X(01)00471-1. PMID 11567776.
- Keller NP, Turner G, Bennett JW (2005). "Fungal secondary metabolism – from biochemistry to genomics". Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 3 (12): 937–47. doi:10.1038/nrmicro1286. PMID 16322742.
- Melina, Remy. "Sex-Change Chicken: Gertie the Hen Becomes Bertie the Cockerel". Live Science. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
- "'Sex-change' chicken shocks Cambridgeshire owner". BBC News. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2011.
- Bullerman,L., Bianchini, A. (2007). "Stability of mycotoxins during food processing". International Journal of Food Microbiology 119 (1-2): 140–146.
- Adejumo, T.O., Adejoro, D.O. (2014). "Incidence of aflatoxins, fumonisins, trichothecenes and ochratoxins in Nigerian foods and possible intervention strategies". Food Science and Quality Management 31: 127–146.
- Bennett JW, Klich M (2003). "Mycotoxins". Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 16 (3): 497–516. doi:10.1128/CMR.16.3.497-516.2003. PMC 164220. PMID 12857779.
- Berger KJ, Guss DA (2005). "Mycotoxins revisited: Part I". J. Emerg. Med. 28 (1): 53–62. doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2004.08.013. PMID 15657006.
- Berger KJ, Guss DA (2005). "Mycotoxins revisited: Part II". J. Emerg. Med. 28 (2): 175–83. doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2004.08.019. PMID 15707814.
- van Egmond HP, Schothorst RC, Jonker MA (2007). "Regulations relating to mycotoxins in food: perspectives in a global and European context". Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 389 (1): 147–57. doi:10.1007/s00216-007-1317-9. PMID 17508207.
- Shephard GS (2008). "Determination of mycotoxins in human foods". Chem. Soc. Rev. 37 (11): 2468–77. doi:10.1039/b713084h. PMID 18949120.
- Kendra DF, Dyer RB (2007). "Opportunities for biotechnology and policy regarding mycotoxin issues in international trade". Int. J. Food Microbiol. 119 (1–2): 147–51. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2007.07.036. PMID 17727996.
- Wood GE (1 December 1992). "Mycotoxins in foods and feeds in the United States". J. Anim. Sci. 70 (12): 3941–9. PMID 1474031.
- Martins ML, Martins HM, Bernardo F (2001). "Aflatoxins in spices marketed in Portugal". Food Addit. Contam. 18 (4): 315–9. doi:10.1080/02652030120041. PMID 11339266.
- Yin YN, Yan LY, Jiang JH, Ma ZH (2008). "Biological control of aflatoxin contamination of crops". J Zhejiang Univ Sci B 9 (10): 787–92. doi:10.1631/jzus.B0860003. PMC 2565741. PMID 18837105.
- Bayman P, Baker JL (2006). "Ochratoxins: a global perspective". Mycopathologia 162 (3): 215–23. doi:10.1007/s11046-006-0055-4. PMID 16944288.
- Mateo R, Medina A, Mateo EM, Mateo F, Jiménez M (2007). "An overview of ochratoxin A in beer and wine". Int. J. Food Microbiol. 119 (1–2): 79–83. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2007.07.029. PMID 17716764.
- Bennett, JW; Klich, M (Jul 2003). "Mycotoxins.". Clinical Microbiology Reviews 16 (3): 497–516. doi:10.1128/CMR.16.3.497-516.2003. PMC 164220. PMID 12857779. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Moss MO (2008). "Fungi, quality and safety issues in fresh fruits and vegetables". J. Appl. Microbiol. 104 (5): 1239–43. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2672.2007.03705.x. PMID 18217939.
- Trucksess MW, Scott PM (2008). "Mycotoxins in botanicals and dried fruits: A review". Food Addit. Contam. 25 (2): 181–92. doi:10.1080/02652030701567459. PMID 18286408.
- Cornely OA (2008). "Aspergillus to Zygomycetes: causes, risk factors, prevention, and treatment of invasive fungal infections". Infection 36 (4): 296–313. doi:10.1007/s15010-008-7357-z. PMID 18642109.
- Schaafsma AW, Hooker DC (2007). "Climatic models to predict occurrence of Fusarium toxins in wheat and maize". Int. J. Food Microbiol. 119 (1–2): 116–25. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2007.08.006. PMID 17900733.
- Desjardins AE, Proctor RH (2007). "Molecular biology of Fusarium mycotoxins". Int. J. Food Microbiol. 119 (1–2): 47–50. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2007.07.024. PMID 17707105.
- Kabak B, Dobson AD, Var I (2006). "Strategies to prevent mycotoxin contamination of food and animal feed: a review". Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 46 (8): 593–619. doi:10.1080/10408390500436185. PMID 17092826.
- Fog Nielsen, K (2003). "Mycotoxin production by indoor molds". Fungal Genetics and Biology 39 (2): 103–17. doi:10.1016/S1087-1845(03)00026-4. PMID 12781669.
- Pestka JJ, Yike I, Dearborn DG, Ward MD, Harkema JR (2008). "Stachybotrys chartarum, trichothecene mycotoxins, and damp building-related illness: new insights into a public health enigma". Toxicol. Sci. 104 (1): 4–26. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfm284. PMID 18007011.
- Godish, Thad (2001). Indoor environmental quality. Chelsea, Mich: Lewis Publishers. pp. 183–4. ISBN 1-56670-402-2.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2000). "Update: Pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis among infants—Cleveland, Ohio, 1993–1996". MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 49 (9): 180–4. PMID 11795499.
- Hardin BD, Robbins CA, Fallah P, Kelman BJ (2009). "The concentration of no toxicologic concern (CoNTC) and airborne mycotoxins". J. Toxicol. Environ. Health Part A 72 (9): 585–98. doi:10.1080/15287390802706389. PMID 19296408.
- Boonen J, Malysheva S, Taevernier L, Diana Di Mavungu J, De saeger S, De Spiegeleer B (2012). Human skin penetration of selected model mycotoxins" Toxicology 301(1-3) 21-32. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2012.06.012 PMID 22749975.
- Lewis L, Onsongo M, Njapau H, et al. (2005). "Aflatoxin contamination of commercial maize products during an outbreak of acute aflatoxicosis in eastern and central Kenya". Environ. Health Perspect. 113 (12): 1763–7. doi:10.1289/ehp.7998. PMC 1314917. PMID 16330360.
- Susan S. Lang (2006-01-06). "Dogs keep dying: Too many owners remain unaware of toxic dog food". Cornell University Chronicle.
- "More Aflatoxin-Related Dog Food Recalls Revealed". Food Safety News. 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2012-05-12.
- Queiroz, Oscar; Rabaglino, Maria; Adesogan, Adegbola (4 November 2013). "Mycotoxins in Silage".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to mycotoxins.|
|Look up mycotoxin in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|