What is fumonisin?
One of the most common mycotoxins to contaminate corn and corn products worldwide is fumonisin. Fumonisin is a natural byproduct of fusarium fungi, which prosper in soil and on plants.
In the Midwest region of the United States it is referred to as Fumonisin Ear Rot. Like other mycotoxins, fumonisin poses dangers to animals and humans through the food, feed and pet food supply chains.
Fusarium’s wide geographic distribution is due to its ability to survive in a variety of climates, temperatures, and humidity levels. Although fumonisin has been identified at low levels in other crops, corn is most susceptible and in the most need of fumonisin analysis.
Fumonisin was discovered during research studies on outbreaks of esophageal cancer in Africa in the 1980s. This discovery is relatively recent compared to other mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin, ochratoxin, deoxynivalenol (DON / vomitoxin), T-2/HT-2 and zearalenone (F-2) [link]. The body of knowledge about fumonisin is still small, and scientists are continuing to learn more about its structure and effects.
What are the harmful effects of fumonisin?
Several disorders in animals and humans are linked to fumonisin ingestion.
In humans, fumonisin is linked with esophageal cancer. In animals including horses, swine, poultry and cattle it has caused everything from heart and liver damage to impaired growth and kidney and liver cancer. Symptoms in horses include drowsiness, staggering and liquefaction of brain tissue.
Classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, strict regulations for fumonisin levels in food have been established in many countries including the United States, underscoring the need for corn growers and corn processers to use reliable fumonisin testing technology. United States regulators include the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Why should you test for fumonisin?
Fumonisin testing has found that ninety percent of fields in the United States are contaminated with some level of fumonisin. All seven continents have contaminated crops.
It is particularly important to test for fumonisin in corn because this mycotoxin is often not identifiable with sight tests. Although low levels of fumonisin do not have significant effects on humans or animals, if fumonisin levels increase to 5 ppm or more there could be severe health consequences.
Scientists and growers have attempted to breed corn varieties that have resistance to fumonisin. Although certain varieties do have heritable resistance, no resistant genotypes are currently known and scientists have found it difficult to incorporate genes for resistance into genetically modified corn varieties.
Testing for fumonisin helps to maintain crop quality, avoid contamination, reduce health risks, and prevent economic impact to commodities markets, especially corn.
Who should do fumonisin testing?
In some conditions, growers will see cottony white to light grey filaments between the kernels on the ear of corn. Eventually the kernels themselves will grow discolored and become grey to light brown. Kernels will also become brittle and crack apart more frequently, which gives more material for fumonisin to grow on.
However, fumonisin is often present in corn without showing any outward signs. The only sure way to detect the presence of fumonisin in corn is through testing.
Growth of the fusarium fungus and the production of fumonisin does stop when a grain is dried below a 19% moisture content. Unfortunately, this does not detoxify the fumonisin. If proper storage conditions are not enforced and maintained, the fungus will continue to grow and produce more fumonisin.
Corn growers and other crop producers must be vigilant because the environmental conditions in which fumonisin flourishes are not especially distinctive.
The need for fumonisin testing exists worldwide because:
- Fumonisin production occurs in a wide variety of climates
- Fumonisin tends to contaminate a plant after a drought when the plant’s immune system is most vulnerable
Testing for Fumonisin
How to Test for Fumonisin
Three primary methods are available for mycotoxin analysis. The HPLC method for mycotoxin detection is time-consuming, and both HPLC and ELISA methods require expensive laboratory equipment. LFD testing strips are a simple, fast and cost-effective way to perform a mycotoxin test with quantitative or qualitative results. Only with proven and certified mycotoxin testing technology can users make objective, real-time decisions that meet regulation standards and mitigate the risks of lost productivity and health due to aflatoxin contamination.