Mycotoxins are chemicals produced by fungi growing on food commodities. These toxins are important because they are deleterious to the health of animals or humans.
Many fungi that produce mycotoxins are also plant pathogens. It is not unusual for crops such as peanuts, corn and wheat to be contaminated with mycotoxins prior to harvesting because of severe disease problems. In Indiana, we are most concerned about four mycotoxins (aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, zearalenone, and fumonisin) associated with ear rot diseases of corn.
The long range goals of my research program are to investigate the biosynthesis of various mycotoxins and to develop novel approaches for eliminating the risk of mycotoxin contamination of food sources. Research on the molecular biology of mycotoxin biosynthesis will reveal vulnerable points in the pathways that can be targets for control. Potential approaches include: the identification of chemicals that specifically inhibit mycotoxin biosynthesis; the genetic engineering of plants that express inhibitors of mycotoxin biosynthesis; and the production of biocontrol agents that produce inhibitors of mycotoxin biosynthesis. Another goal is to use these mycotoxin-producing fungi as model systems to advance the current understanding of secondary metabolism in fungi.
My extension responsibility is mycotoxins associated with grain production. Mycotoxins are a concern in both corn and wheat crops prior to harvest and during storage. The objective of my extension effort is to inform and educate the grain producers, handlers, and processors about mycotoxins. Surveying fields for disease and mycotoxins is a major component of his program, because diseases prior to harvest are the primary source of mycotoxins. From these surveys, I inform those in the grain industry of the potential mycotoxins present at harvest. The information is distributed through extension newsletters, workshops and telephone conversations. This information is used by the grain industry for deciding how grain should be handled. My extension program addresses molds and mycotoxin problems that occur in storage because of insect feeding or poor grain management. I also have a hands-on workshop on the use of mycotoxin test kits.