Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites of fungi. Secondary metabolites means that they are not essential in the normal metabolic function of the fungus. Still mycotoxins are produced on almost all agricultural commodities worldwide. Over 1000 different mycotoxins and fungal metabolites have already been identified and many of these substances still need to be investigated.
Mycotoxins can be already produced on the field (“pre-harvest”) and during storage (typically after harvest). Some of the most common and well known mycotoxins are: aflatoxins, trichothecenes such as deoxynivalenol and T-2 toxin, fumonisins, zearalenone, ochratoxin and ergot alkaloids.
Effects of mycotoxins on animals are diverse and range from carcinogenicity, hepatoxicity and neurotoxicity to impaired reproduction, digestive disorders, immunomodulation and decreased performance. Clinical signs can be seen at high levels of mycotoxin contamination but more frequently we observe subclinical effects. Already moderate levels of mycotoxins, especially during chronic exposure, can negatively affect the animals. Mycotoxins influence the immune system, the integrity of the gut barrier and act as predisposing factors for disease.