Mycotoxins

94% of animal feed is contaminated by mycotoxins which can cause major harm to your animals’ health and performance. Mycotoxins are metabolites produced by fungi infecting crops in the field as well as during storage and can be found on almost all agricultural commodities worldwide.

Take control over the risks mycotoxins pose to your animals. Discover more about the challenges and solutions.

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What is a mycotoxin and how can it harm my animals?

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.

Co-occurrence is the rule not the exception

Mycotoxins are produced by different strains of fungi and each strain can produce more than one mycotoxin. Therefore, co-contamination of crops with several mycotoxins is very likely. This co-occurrence can lead to even more detrimental effects on the animals.

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Michele Muccio (Regional Product Manager APAC, DSM) provides the definition of a mycotoxin and how mycotoxins can harm farm animals.

Mycotoxins are highly resistant

Mycotoxins are invisible, tasteless, chemically stable and resistant to temperature and storage. They are highly resistant and thus cannot be removed or detoxified during the normal feed manufacturing processes. A good mycotoxin risk management is crucial and should include mycotoxin detection and other services as well as solutions to counteract the various different mycotoxins in the feed.

Selected species

MYCOTOXINS IN POULTRY FEED 

Mycotoxicosis in Poultry


Uncovering which mycotoxins regularly contaminate poultry feed and the harm caused by mycotoxicosis in poultry

Mycotoxins in poultry feed pose a constant threat to the poultry industry globally. Many of the feed ingredients found in typical poultry rations can be contaminated by harmful mycotoxins that are ingested by birds and have a number of serious consequences. 

Some fungi produce mycotoxins on the field, while other fungi produce mycotoxins during the storage of grains. 

The most common poultry feed ingredients contaminated by mycotoxins include:

  • Corn and corn by-products
  • Wheat and wheat by-products
  • Soybean meal
  • Barley 
The DSM Mycotoxin Survey provides regular update on the occurrence of mycotoxins in the raw commodities and finished feeds based on thousands of samples collected from across the globe.

Effects of mycotoxins in poultry

Poultry species have heterogeneous sensitivity to mycotoxins. Even though all species seem to be affected by mycotoxins.

Effects of Mycotoxins in Poultry

Enlarged and pale yellowish liver with yellow nodules observed in birds fed with aflatoxin contaminated feed. Aflatoxins were detected in the feed at 153 ppb | Source: BIOMIN

Example of aflatoxins in chickens 

Aflatoxins are known to have a hepatotoxic effect in poultry and also a hepatocarcinogenic effect in exposed animals. The most common pathological lesions associated with aflatoxicosis in poultry are found in the liver, lymphoid organs, and testes, often occurring over a period of chronic exposure. In acute-subacute aflatoxicosis, the liver appears enlarged, pale yellow in color, friable, and usually the gall bladder is also enlarged and filled with bile. 

For more detailed information about effects of specific mycotoxins in poultry please visit: https://www.mycotoxins.info/

Several factors increase a bird’s susceptibility to mycotoxins, such as: 

  • Birds being placed in a hostile environment, e.g. high temperatures and humidity
  • Poor ventilation
  • High density
  • Challenges from poultry diseases e.g. coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis

Mycotoxin susceptibility

Co-occurence risk

The effects of mycotoxins in poultry are very complex and varies greatly according to their mechanism of toxicity affecting several organs and, in case of high contamination levels, may even lead to death of animals. When mycotoxins are present simultaneously in feed, they may have synergistic or additive effects.

Even at low levels of mycotoxins in feed, during sensitive period of production cycle or when exposed for long periods, can impair the immune system leading to the immune suppressive conditions. Aflatoxins, ochratoxin, trichothecenes, and fumonisins are known to induce immune suppressive effects in chickens, rendering them more susceptible to diseases (Singh et al., 1990, Ghosh et al., 1991). In addition, low level of mycotoxins can have an antimicrobial effect and can cause feed passage (Devegowda and Murthy, 2005).

AFB1 - Aflatoxin B1 ; FB1 – Fumonisin B1 ; DON – Deoxynivalenol; OTA – Ochratoxin A; ZEN – Zearalenone; FA – Fusaric acid; DAS – Diacetoxyscirpenol; CPA – Cyclopiazonic acid; MON – Moniliformin

Additive (dashed black line) and synergistic (red line) effects in poultry

Leads to gut health issues > Leaky gut

Any mycotoxins present in feed are delivered straight to the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of the birds, the organ most affected by mycotoxins. The gastrointestinal tract is the most important organ for converting feed into energy, and its ability to function properly is directly linked to poultry productivity. Gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is also the biggest immune organ in the body system.

Fusarium mycotoxins specially DON (deoxynivalenol) and FUM (fumonisins) Impact the intestinal morphology by increasing villus fusion and decreasing tight junctions formation. These effects lead to a ‘leaky gut’ condition which increases the proliferation of secondary pathogens as Coccidiosis, Necrotic Enteritis, E. coli, Salmonella sp. Moreover the intestinal surface for nutrient absorption is prejudiced Therefore mycotoxins are closely related to some important poultry diseases and performance.

Figure 4. Consequences of mycotoxin contamination on GIT condition

Impaired immunity at low mycotoxin contamination levels

Immunotoxic substances such as mycotoxins are unsuspected players in the failure of vaccines to provoke a proper immune response. 

DON and its co-occurrence with FUM are known to modulate the immune function. One good example is the reduction in the number of antibody titres against vaccine programs in poultry. Several research results have shown that DON and FUM reduce antibody response to Newcastle Disease (ND) and Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV). In one experiment conducted in Austria, the feeding of a DON-contaminated diet decreased serum antibody titres against the IBV vaccine (Figure 4) compared to the control diet. 

Mycofix® was able to counteract the effects of deoxnivalenol on IBV antibody titres in broilers. 

Figure 5. Effect of DON and Mycofix® Select on IBV antibody titres in broiler chickens

Effects of mycotoxins in week one chicks

Week one chicks are at a crucial stage with seemingly minor issues having the potential to determine their health prospects in both the short and long term. Development of the intestinal tract and an active immune system is the central foundation of a healthy bird’s life, and it is exactly that which is at risk from early exposure to mycotoxins. Interference at this stage, even if low-level, can have disastrous results at a later stage. Low mycotoxin doses can combine with environmental stressors, even if they are out of the rearer’s control.

This combination can result in invisible losses, with subclinical effects that include:

  • Disruption of gut health
  • Greater susceptibility to disease
  • More serious immune problems in later life
  • Further losses to economic performance
  • Signs of infection

Interested in more about the mycotoxin risk in 1-week-old chicks. Contact us. 

Diagnosis of mycotoxicosis in poultry

Clinical signs and pathological lesions on primary target organs can be used as an early warning system (EWS) for mycotoxin contamination in feed/raw materials.

Mycotoxin-induced illness, or mycotoxicosis, may be difficult to directly observe. There are several common clinical signs and pathological lesions of mycotoxicoses in poultry.

Signs of mycotoxin ingestion by birds include:

  • A flock in a farm which consumed the same feed/raw materials are affected
  • Antimicrobial treatment has little or even no effect on the disease
  • Field outbreaks are seasonal and associated with specific feedstuffs
  • Examination of the suspected feed reveals signs of fungal activity (Richard, 2012). 

Even though the effects of mycotoxins are very complex and there is a great variation in possible symptoms, target organs, and pathological lesions from one mycotoxin to the other (Naehrer, 2012), presumptive diagnosis can be based on clinical signs, pathological lesions on target organs, especially when moldy ingredients or feed are evident. 

Definitive diagnosis should be based on isolation, identification, and quantification of the specific mycotoxin/mycotoxins in feed ingredients or finished feed. Samples of feed and ingredients should be collected and promptly submitted for laboratory analysis. Multiple samples should be collected from different sites of mycotoxin formation zone (“hot spots”) (Whitaker et al., 2005, Krska and Schuhmacher, 2012).

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Remarks by Charles Rangga Tabbu, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia, during the poultry breakout session at the 2016 World Nutrition Forum in Vancouver, Canada.

When it comes to counteracting mycotoxins, the poultry industry tends to think of toxin binders or mycotoxin binders first.

However, clay mineral binders are not an effective answer to all major mycotoxins. Especially not against trichothecenes mycotoxins since their structures are not suitable for adsorbing by binders. Biotransformation using microbes and enzymes is the most effective strategy. It provides reliable protection against mycotoxins, biodegrading them into non-toxic metabolites. The biotransformation is fast, specific and irreversible.

In addition to biotransformation, a bioprotection strategy is also important. Variety of feed additives is available that contains plant and algae extracts to provide a hepato-protective effect and to overcome the immune suppression caused by mycotoxins. A combination of different strategies can counteract the negative effects of mycotoxins in poultry more completely, especially in cases of multi-mycotoxin contamination with the poorly absorbed fusarium mycotoxins in poultry feed.

Mycotoxin Solutions

  • Mycotoxin Deactivators

    Our portfolio of feed additives represents the most state-of-the-art solution for protecting animal health by deactivating the mycotoxins that contaminate farm animal feed, either in the animal or in the feed itself. The safety and efficacy of our products are proven by 7 EU authorizations for substances that deactivate mycotoxins.

  • Mycofix®

    The Mycofix® portfolio of feed additives represents the most state-of-the-art solution for protecting animal health by deactivating mycotoxins that contaminate farm animal feed. Its safety and efficacy are proven by 7 EU authorizations for substances that deactivate mycotoxins.

  • FUMzyme® sol

    FUMzyme®, the only enzyme that effectively detoxifies fumonisins safely and irreversibly, is available for post-pellet and liquid application in animal feed. From the creators of Mycofix®. Naturally Ahead.

  • Mycofix® Plus 5.Z

    Absolute protection against the broadest range of mycotoxins. With ZENzyme® Faster and Better

  • Mycotoxin Detection

    We offer a range of analytical services to customers to assess the mycotoxin contamination of feed materials.

  • Mycotoxin Prediction

    The Mycotoxin Prediction Service delivers assessments of expected mycotoxin levels in the upcoming harvest of corn (maize) and wheat around the world.

  • Mycotoxin Contamination

    Our portfolio of tools helps to understand the potential risks of mycotoxins for animal species and location.

  • DSM Mycotoxin Survey

    The DSM Mycotoxin Survey constitutes the longest running and most comprehensive data set on mycotoxin occurrence. The survey results provide insights on the incidence of the six major mycotoxins in the agricultural commodities used for livestock feed in order to identify the potential risk posed to livestock animal production.

Related Publications

MYCOTOXIN HUB

Latest Mycotoxin Updates

Read more about mycotoxins, get the latest mycotoxin survey reports and more.

MYCOTOXINS IN SWINE FEED

Mycotoxicosis in Swine


Pigs are considered highly susceptible to mycotoxin contamination, with young animals and female breeders being the most sensitive groups. Mycotoxin can cause clinical symptoms or subclinical decreasing animal performance leading to great economic losses.

Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by molds and fungi on plants, on the field or during the storage. The BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey provides regular update on the occurrence of mycotoxins in the raw commodities and finished feeds based on thousands of samples collected from across the globe.

Effects of mycotoxins in swine / mycotoxins symptoms in pigs

Mycotoxins target many organs and tissues and systems, liver, gut, kidneys, reproductive and immune system. The outcome is decreased performance, higher sensitivity to pathogens and reducing vaccination response. 

Symptoms vary considerably depending on which mycotoxin is responsible and can range from fertility and reproductive problems, reduced productivity, suppressed immunity and various pathological effects on organs and tissues.

Effects of Mycotoxins in Pigs

Zearalenone and pigs

Zearalenone (ZEN) can have a significant impact on reproductive performance, as pigs are among the most sensitive species to this mycotoxin. Negative effects are due to the interaction of ZEN and its metabolites with estrogen receptors, disturbing hormonal homeostasis. 

ZEN can cause abortions, light litters and stillbirths In addition, ZEN contaminated feed induces the swelling and reddening of vulva (hypoestrogenism), false heats and pseudopregnancy. Studies investigating the carry-over of ZEN into meat and other edible tissues showed that there is only limited tissue deposition of this mycotoxin.

Effects of zearalenone on swine fertility

Pigs are very sensitive to zearalenone (ZEN). ZEN increases the frequency of abortions and stillbirths in pregnant sows. In general, ZEN-contaminated pig feed induces:

  • swelling and reddening of the vulva 
  • false heats
  • false pregnancy

Effects of zearalenone on gilts

Due to their undeveloped endocrine system, gilts are even more sensitive to ZEN’s estrogenic effect. The results of ZEN ingestion are hyperaemia and vulva swelling (hyperestrogenism); uterus mass increase; ovarian follicle atresia and atrophic ovaries; vaginal or rectal prolapse. Hyperestrogenism would delay oestrus onset and would compromise fertility in subsequent reproductive life of gilt.

  • hyperaemia and vulva swelling (hyperestrogenism)
  • uterus mass increase
  • ovarian follicle atresia and atrophic ovaries
  • vaginal or rectal prolapse.

Group

Effect

Symptoms

Female swine

Reproductive

Affects reproduction cycle, conception, ovulation and implantation
Pseudo pregnancy, abortion, anoestrus, nymphomania
Embryonic death, inhibition of fetal development, reduced litter size, reduced birth weight
Enlargement of mammary glands
Swelling and reddening of vulva
Rectal and vaginal prolapse
Reddened teats

Pathological

Atrophy of ovaries
Uterus hypertrophy

Male swine

Reproductive 

Feminization
Enlargement of mammary glands
Impaired semen quality
Testicular atrophy
Swollen prepuce

Piglets/gilts 

Teratogenic 

Splay legs

Table 1. Effects of ZEN in swine 

Effects of aflatoxins on pigs

Aflatoxins can cause death when administered at high levels, but the greatest impact comes from reduced reproductive and performance capabilities, suppressed immune function and various pathological effects on organs and tissues.

Piglets fed aflatoxin-contaminated diets which were vaccinated with ovalbumin, showed decreased cell-mediated immunity and impaired lymphocyte activation. Thymus weight and histopathology, as well as viable alveolar macrophages were negatively influenced. In addition, cases of aflatoxin carry-over in swine have been reported with residues found in porcine liver and muscle tissues.

Effects of fumonisins on pigs

Numerous studies have confirmed the link between porcine pulmonary edema (PPE) and fumonisin intoxication. Severe lung edemas, liver and pancreas injuries, performance decreases and immune suppression were observed in exposed animals, even at low doses. Chronic exposure to fumonisin B1 (FB1), decreased the proliferation of undifferentiated porcine epithelial intestinal cells, altered the integrity of the intestinal epithelium and consequently facilitated the intrusion of pathogens into the body.

Fumonisins impair vaccination response, reduce the level of several specific antibodies and the period of vaccine protection. The carry-over of fumonisins in sow milk and pork meat (mainly liver and kidneys), may only occur after a high level of exposure over a longer period. On the other hand, the recently discovered hydrolyzed form of fumonisin B1 caused neither intestinal nor hepatic toxicity and did not impair the intestinal morphology of pigs.

Effects of ochratoxin A on pigs

Hepatotoxic effects, decreased performance parameters, nephrotoxicity and necrosis are the major toxic effects caused by Ochratoxin A. In addition, pigs showed a significant and linear reduction of daily gain with increasing doses of ingested ochratoxin A. This mycotoxin was observed to suppress cell-mediated immune response in pigs, resulting in reduced macrophage activity and weakened stimulation of lymphocytes. Furthermore, ochratoxin A tends to accumulate in kidneys, liver and muscle tissues, as well as in blood serum and, therefore, it represents a potential hazard in the human food chain.

Effects of deoxynivalenol on pigs

Pigs show a high sensitivity to deoxynivalenol (DON). The most frequently observed effects of deoxynivalenol consumption in swine are:

  • Vomiting
  • Growth reduction (anorexia and decreased nutritional efficiency)
  • Protein synthesis inhibition
  • Gut barrier disruption
  • Impaired immune function (enhancement and suppression)
  • Decreased reproductive performance

Deoxynivalenol inhibits intestinal nutrient absorption and alters intestinal cell and barrier functions. The highest residues of deoxynivalenol were detected in bile, followed by the kidneys and serum. Residues were detected in the liver and in muscle tissue as well. Concerning influence on immunity, trichothecenes in general reduce lymphocyte proliferation, macrophage activity and antibody response to certain vaccinations and influenced immunoglobulin levels.

Synergistic effects of mycotoxins in pigs

About 80% of swine diseases are related to the mismanagement of feed quality, reproduction, housing conditions and biosecurity, with only 20% due to viral, bacterial or parasitic pathogens. Toxicological interactions between mycotoxins enhance the toxic effects even at low levels.

Fusarium graminearum and Fusarium culmorum are known to produce several different fusariotoxins, including zearalenone and deoxynivalenol, which are known to interact synergistically in swine. In addition, the analysis of deoxynivalenol often indicates the co-occurrence of other fusariotoxins such as other trichothecenes (T-2 toxin, nivalenol, diacetoxyscirpenol), zearalenone and fumonisins.

A summary on the synergistic and additive effects of mycotoxins in pigs is presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Synergistic and additive effects in pigs
AFB1 - Aflatoxin B1; FB1 - Fumonisin B1; DON - Deoxynivalenol; OTA - Ochratoxin A; ZEN - Zearalenone; FA - Fusaric acid; DAS - Diacetoxyscirpenol; CPA - Cyclopiazonic acid; MON - Moniliformin
Red line: Synergistic effect
Dashed line: Additive effect

Reproductive performance of sows exposed to Fusarium toxins

In a recent trial contracted by BIOMIN at the University of Berlin, the reproductive performance of sows was evaluated in the presence of DON and ZEN during a long-term (three-cycle) exposure to Fusarium toxins. Sows were allocated to one of three different groups (Table 2). 

Group Diet
Control


Feed not contaminated

Toxin


Feed contaminated with DON at high levels and ZEN at medium levels

Trial


Feed contaminated with DON at high levels and ZEN at medium levels and supplemented with Mycofix® Plus

Table 2. Summary of trial groups and diets

The presence of mycotoxins impaired different reproductive performance parameters as shown in Figure 2. The most commonly used index for assessing reproductive performance is the number of weaned piglets per sow per year. Farrowing rate and wean to estrus interval both affect this index. The presence of mycotoxins, especially ZEN, increased the returns to heat of inseminated sows and decreased the farrowing rate. 

The drop in feed intake affected the body condition score of the sows at weaning and milk yield. Underweight sows need more days to come into estrus after weaning. This decreases the number of farrowings per year, meaning there are fewer weaned piglets produced per sow per year. In addition, lower milk yields could compromise litter growth and weaning weights, resulting in lower weights at slaughter or more days in feed.

The presence of mycotoxins also compromised piglet quality (Figure 3). The percentage of underweight piglets (<1.2 kg) increased, implying that mycotoxins have a negative effect on embryo development and maternal nutrition. The negative effect on piglet quality accompanied with a depletion of milk yield may result in higher pre-weaning mortality and lower weaning weights.

However, a sound recovery was observed when Mycofix® Plus was applied.

Figure 2. Effects of ZEN and DON on reproductive indices. The yellow area represents the control group, presented as 100% performance. | Source: BIOMIN

Figure 3. Effect of ZEN and DON on reproductive indices. The yellow area represents the control group, presented as 100% performance. | Source: BIOMIN

Diagnosis of mycotoxicosis in pigs

Mycotoxicoses are caused by ingestion of mycotoxins, inhalation or contact with the skin. The effects of mycotoxins in swine are diverse, varying from immunosuppression to death in severe cases, depending on toxin-related (type of mycotoxin consumed, level and duration of intake), animal-related (animal species, sex, age, breed, general health, immune status, nutritional standing) and environmental (farm management, biosecurity, hygiene, temperature) factors. This fact often impedes correct attribution of problems caused by mycotoxins.

Much attention should be given to the so-called “conditioned” diseases—for example, Erysipelas, E.coliSalmonella, Influenza, Pasteurella and Streptococcus. These diseases are triggered by a stress stimulus. Mycotoxins have been shown to be a sufficient and necessary condition to set aflame such infections.

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Ana Paula Bracarense of Universidade Estadual de Londrina in Brazil, explores the effects of mycotoxins on pigs' inflammatory response.

Mycotoxin risk management for pigs

When it comes to counteracting mycotoxins, pig industry tends to think of toxin binders or mycotoxin binders first. (Learn the truth about mycotoxin binders).

However, clay mineral binders are not an effective answer to all major mycotoxins. Especially not against Trichothecenes since their structures are not suitable for adsorbing by binders.

Biotransformation using microbes and enzymes is the most effective strategy. It provides reliable protection for pigs against Fusarium mycotoxins by biodegrading mycotoxins into non-toxic metabolites. The transformation is fast, specific and irreversible.

In addition to biotransformation, a bioprotection strategy is also important. Variety of feed additives is available that contains plant and algae extracts to provide a hepato-protective effect and to overcome the immune suppression caused by mycotoxins.

A combination of different strategies can counteract the negative effects of mycotoxins in pigs more completely, especially in cases of multi-mycotoxin contamination with the poorly absorbed Fusarium mycotoxins in swine feed.

Mycotoxin Solutions

  • Mycotoxin Prediction

    The Mycotoxin Prediction Service delivers assessments of expected mycotoxin levels in the upcoming harvest of corn (maize) and wheat around the world.

  • Mycotoxin Contamination

    Our portfolio of tools helps to understand the potential risks of mycotoxins for animal species and location.

  • FUMzyme® Silage

    FUMzyme® Silage is a unique additive sprayed onto corn (maize) at harvest that targets and detoxifies harmful fumonisins, so that the resulting silage is safe and fumonisin-free for livestock nutrition.

  • Mycofix®

    The Mycofix® portfolio of feed additives represents the most state-of-the-art solution for protecting animal health by deactivating mycotoxins that contaminate farm animal feed. Its safety and efficacy are proven by 7 EU authorizations for substances that deactivate mycotoxins.

  • FUMzyme® sol

    FUMzyme®, the only enzyme that effectively detoxifies fumonisins safely and irreversibly, is available for post-pellet and liquid application in animal feed. From the creators of Mycofix®. Naturally Ahead.

  • Mycofix® Plus 5.Z

    Absolute protection against the broadest range of mycotoxins. With ZENzyme® Faster and Better

  • DSM Mycotoxin Survey

    The DSM Mycotoxin Survey constitutes the longest running and most comprehensive data set on mycotoxin occurrence. The survey results provide insights on the incidence of the six major mycotoxins in the agricultural commodities used for livestock feed in order to identify the potential risk posed to livestock animal production.

  • Mycotoxin Detection

    We offer a range of analytical services to customers to assess the mycotoxin contamination of feed materials.

MYCOTOXINS IN RUMINANTS FEED

Mycotoxicosis in Ruminants


Mycotoxins are found in almost every agricultural commodity worldwide. Whether these toxins have been produced by fungi infecting crops in the field or by fungi contaminating feed in storage, they pose a challenge to livestock.

A wide array of grains and forages can be contaminated with mycotoxins. To date, more than 700 mycotoxins have been identified. The DSM Mycotoxin Survey provides a regular update on the occurrence of mycotoxins in raw commodities and finished feed based on thousands of samples collected from across the globe.

Effects and symptoms of mycotoxins in cattle

Ruminants were thought to be resistant to mycotoxins because of the capacity of rumen microbes to degrade some types of mycotoxins. However, there is today much more understanding of what really affects this capacity.

Some factors that determine the level of degradation of mycotoxins are:

  1. Modern dairy cows have a much faster passage rate of feed through the rumen, which leaves a shorter time for the microbes to break down the toxins in the rumen
  2. Total level of contamination and synergistic effects: ruminants are exposed to much more complex diets than monogastrics, which creates mycotoxin cocktails that can cause synergistic effects against the animals
  3. The widely common SARA (subacute ruminal acidosis) conditions in modern dairy farming, cause protozoa populations in the rumen to decline and, as one of the most important mycotoxin-degrading agents, this leads to a decreased degradation and therefore, higher levels of mycotoxins can pass to the intestine and exert toxic effects.

Mycotoxins symptoms in cattle

The harmful effects of mycotoxins do not begin with animal metabolism but with the ruminal microflora which affects the efficiency and productivity of ruminal fermentations. In fact, clinical symptoms may not manifest in most practical situations, but performance will be subsequently compromised, resulting in decreased yield, poor reproduction and increased lameness or mastitis.

Mycotoxin Degradation in the Rumen No Degradation in the Rumen
 Aflatoxin

0 - 42 %

More toxic Aflatoxicol

(Engel and Hagemeister, 1978)

58 - 100 %

 Zearalenone

50 %

α- and β-Zearalenol

(Gruber-Dorninger et al., 2021)

50 %

metabolites more estrogenic

 Trichothecenes (DON, NIV, T-2, etc.)

15 - 99 % DOM-1

(Cote et al., 1986; Kiessling et al., 1984, Debevere, 2020)

1 - 85 %

 Ochratoxin A

90 - 100 %

(Mobashar et al, 2010)

0 - 10 %

 Fumonisins

No degradation

(EFSA, 2018)

Unknown, no reported oral bioavailability

 Enniantin B

1 - 25 %

(Debevere et al, 2020)

75 - 99%

Table 1. Capacity of the rumen to degrade some of the most relevant mycotoxins

Figure 1. Major impacts of mycotoxins to different areas of cow’s health

Differential Diagnosis for Ruminants

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Main consequences of mycotoxins in dairy cows in relation to mammary health and milk production

Reduced milk production results from several factors, including a decrease in intake or feed refusal, commonly caused by trichothecenes (e.g. DON, NIV, T-2, etc.). Many mycotoxins can alter rumen function due to their antimicrobial effect, such as trichothecenes, zearalenone, fumonisins, as well as many emerging mycotoxins. They can alter the microbial populations and reduce feed digestibility, therefore reducing volatile fatty acid and microbial protein production, which finally limits nutrient availability for milk synthesis.

  1. Reduced milk production
  2. Toxic contaminants in milk, especially Aflatoxin M1
  3. Increased risk of mastitis
  4. Altered milk composition
  5. Reduced milk to cheese yield

Aflatoxin carryover to milk and milk products

  • Ruminants can only partly degrade aflatoxin in the rumen, the rest is converted into Aflatoxin M1, which is excreted in milk, representing a public health concern
  • Aflatoxins are known to be the most carcinogen substance found in nature, it causes multiple negative effects to the animal’s health
  • Most countries established strict limits for aflatoxins in milk (Table 2), but it is important to note that also other mycotoxins can negatively affect profitability and animal health and welfare
  EU - EFSA US - FDA Mycotoxin
Complementary and complete feed

10 µg/kg

 

Aflatoxin B1

Complete feed for dairy

5 µg/kg

20 µg/kg

Aflatoxin B1

Milk

0.05 µg/kg

0.5 µg/kg

Aflatoxin M1

Table 2. Regulatory levels for aflatoxins in dairy cow’s feed and milk in the USA and the EU.

Trichothecenes

This is one of the most important families of mycotoxins affecting ruminants. They are produced by Fusarium spp. and they often co-occur with other fusarium mycotoxins like ZEN and FUM. There are two major groups:

Type A Trichothecenes

  • HT-2 toxin
  • T-2 toxin
  • DAS

Type B Trichothecenes

  • DON
  • NIV

Trichothecenes inhibit protein and nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) synthesis. They can induce inflammation, oxidative stress and even cell death. The level of contamination will determine the degree of the impact that can be observed (Figure 2)

Their effect is particularly clear in cells and tissues of high cell turnover, like:

  • Intestinal epithelium: they impair gut barrier function and allow the way in for other mycotoxins, bateria and more; as well as reducing the nutrient absorption capacity of the intestine.
Figure 3. Effect of increasing Nivalenol and Deoxynivalenol concentration on the metabolic activity of a calf intestinal epithelial cell line in vitro, showing 25% activity reduction at the red line (Reisinger et al., 2019)
  • Mammary epithelium
  • Ovarian granulosa cells
  • Among others.
Figure 2. Description of the effect of trichothecenes at the cellular level at levels of contamination ranging from low to high
  • Immune cells are necessary to defend against infection. In figure X, it is possible to observe the negative effect of DON on immune cell proliferation in vitro, at rather low concentrations
Figure 4. Relative proliferation of bovine poly morpho nuclear (immune) cells treated with different concentrations of deoxynivalenol. * indicates significant differences compared to control (*p<0.05, **p<0.01 and ***p<0,001; Novak et al., 2018).

Deoxynivalenol

One of the most commonly occurring mycotoxins in livestock feeds is deoxynivalenol (DON), better known as ‘vomitoxin’. Deoxynivalenol is a member of the trichothecene family of mycotoxins, specifically Type B trichothecenes. Several species of Fusarium molds are capable of producing trichothecenes. Additionally, some Fusarium mold species can produce the mycotoxins zearalenone and fumonisins. It is not uncommon to detect more than one toxin in a feed sample since molds can produce more than one type of mycotoxin and since more than one mold can infect a plant.

Additionally, other organs may be exposed to pathogens or toxins which enter the bloodstream, increasing the possibility for disease. Disruption of the intestinal mucosa can also lead to diarrhea. A large portion of the immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract. Immune function can be impaired by disruption of the gut mucosa.  

DON can impair production of the white blood cells, which help fight infection. Deoxynivalenol can also weaken the immune system by negatively impacting cytokine and antibody production. The animal’s natural immune response to vaccinations may also be reduced, leaving them susceptible to disease despite vaccination. All of these factors can lead to immune dysfunction in cattle, increasing vulnerability to infections. 

Zearalenone

  • ZEN shares a very similar structure with estrogen, therefore it binds to estrogen receptors and causes hormonal imbalances and reproductive failure
  • ZEN is not detoxified by ruminal microbiota, instead its estrogenic effect is increased by being transformed largely into α-ZEL, a molecule with an estrogenic effect 60 times higher than ZEN (Figure 5)
  • Reproductive efficiency in dairy farms represents massive economic losses

For more detailed information, check this article

Figure 5. In vivo degradation of Zearalenone (ZEN) into α-zearalenol (α-ZEL, 60x more estrogenic than ZEN) and ꞵ-zearalenol (ꞵ-ZEL) in rumen cannulated dairy cows (Gruber-Dorninger et al., 2021)

Ergot alkaloids

  • Ruminants have a well-known susceptibility to the effects of ergot alkaloids
  • Ergots are produced by fungi growing on cereals or by endophyte fungi within tall fescue grass
  • One of their main effects is vasoconstriction (restricting blood flow) which has a visible impact on extremities (Figure 6), but can also cause lameness, reproductive failure and it worsens heat stress. 
Figure 6. Signs of impaired circulation in ears, legs and nose, as well as lameness and hoof pain induced by exposure to a concentrate contaminated with DON (410 ppb), NIV (155 ppb), FUM (300 ppb) and Ergot alkaloids (324 ppb), being the latter the main toxin responsible for these symptoms.

Fumonisins

  • It is commonly detected in maize silages
  • Rumen microbes allow FUM to bypass the rumen mostly intact (Figure 7) FUM can cause hepatic damage in calves, dairy cows and beef cattle as well as impair the immune system
  • FUM can lead to decreased milk production and milk quality in dairy cattle and lower weight gain in beef cattle, especially when co-occurring with other mycotoxins

For more detailed information, check this article

Figure 7. FUM degradation patterns from different studies in vivo or after incubation in vitro (adapted from Smith & Thakur 1996, Gurung et al. 1999, Caloni et al. 2000 and Gallo et al., 2020)

Mycotoxin risk management in cattle

Reducing animal exposure to mycotoxins in feed is key. Identifying contamination can help to reduce exposure.

Robust mycotoxin risk management comprises three steps:  

Regular analysis of feed components and silage can help to identify potential threats to animals. A highly contaminated sample does not mean the entire crop is bad and a ‘clean’ sample does not guarantee that all the feed is mycotoxin-free.  Good silage management is essential to avoid further growth of molds and thereby prevent the production of mycotoxins. Regular supplementation with a mycotoxin deactivator is the best insurance to avoid mycotoxins from harming cows’ health and productivity.

Mycotoxin Solutions

  • Mycotoxin Prediction

    The Mycotoxin Prediction Service delivers assessments of expected mycotoxin levels in the upcoming harvest of corn (maize) and wheat around the world.

  • Mycotoxin Contamination

    Our portfolio of tools helps to understand the potential risks of mycotoxins for animal species and location.

  • FUMzyme® Silage

    FUMzyme® Silage is a unique additive sprayed onto corn (maize) at harvest that targets and detoxifies harmful fumonisins, so that the resulting silage is safe and fumonisin-free for livestock nutrition.

  • Mycofix®

    The Mycofix® portfolio of feed additives represents the most state-of-the-art solution for protecting animal health by deactivating mycotoxins that contaminate farm animal feed. Its safety and efficacy are proven by 7 EU authorizations for substances that deactivate mycotoxins.

  • FUMzyme® sol

    FUMzyme®, the only enzyme that effectively detoxifies fumonisins safely and irreversibly, is available for post-pellet and liquid application in animal feed. From the creators of Mycofix®. Naturally Ahead.

  • Mycofix® Plus 5.Z

    Absolute protection against the broadest range of mycotoxins. With ZENzyme® Faster and Better

  • DSM Mycotoxin Survey

    The DSM Mycotoxin Survey constitutes the longest running and most comprehensive data set on mycotoxin occurrence. The survey results provide insights on the incidence of the six major mycotoxins in the agricultural commodities used for livestock feed in order to identify the potential risk posed to livestock animal production.

  • Mycotoxin Detection

    We offer a range of analytical services to customers to assess the mycotoxin contamination of feed materials.

Related Publications

MYCOTOXIN HUB

Latest Mycotoxin Updates

Read more about mycotoxins, get the latest mycotoxin survey reports and more.

MYCOTOXINS IN AQUACULTURE FEED

Mycotoxicosis in Aquaculture


A hidden threat to fish and shrimp farming

The occurrence of mycotoxins in aquatic feeds and their effects on target species are topics that continue to gain attention due to the general trend of replacing expensive animal protein sources such as fishmeal with cheaper plant-derived proteins. Mycotoxin intoxication occurs when fish and shrimp consume mycotoxin-contaminated feedstuffs.

The chemical and thermal stability of mycotoxins renders these molecules unsusceptible to damage during common feed manufacturing procedures like extrusion. 

Symptoms in aquatic species

Many scientific publications have reported on the effects of mycotoxins in fish and shrimp at different contamination levels, enabling a better understanding of mycotoxin-related ailments. However, there are still only few validated clinical symptoms for mycotoxin exposure in fish and shrimps.  

The majority of the described effects of mycotoxins in fish and shrimp are general symptoms and could be attributed to diverse pathologies or challenges, for example, anti-nutritional factors or lectins in the diet. Aflatoxins and fumonisins are two notable exceptions: 

  • Aflatoxin ingestion (aflatoxicosis) causes a yellowing of the body surface  
  • Ingestion of fumonisins increases the sphinganine to sphingosine ratio   

The most frequently reported clinical manifestations of mycotoxin ingestion are:

 1)  a reduction in growth performance and 
 2) alteration of hematological parameters.  

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WNF 2016 Aquaculture Breakouts: 03 Mycotoxins in Aquaculture: Occurrence and Significance

Figure 1. Interacting factors influencing the effects of mycotoxins in fish and shrimps

Overall, the effects of mycotoxins in aquatic species depend on toxin-, animal- and environment-related factors, such as: 

  • Type of mycotoxin(s) 
  • Concentration level  
  • Duration of intake  
  • Animal species
  • Animal sex  
  • Animal age 
  • Animal health and immune status 
  • Farm management 
  • Biosecurity 
  • Hygiene 
  • Temperature  

Effects of mycotoxins in fish

Figure 2. Effects of mycotoxins in fish

Aflatoxins 

Aflatoxins are highly carcinogenic and their concentration is strictly regulated in several markets worldwide. Several aquatic species are sensitive to aflatoxins. In the case of sea bream (Sparus aurata), aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) shows negative effects on the hepatocytes already after 24 of exposure.  

The feed conversion ratio (FCR) and weight gain of Beluga (Huso huso) are negatively affected by concentrations of AFB1 ranging from 20 to 100 ppb. Other symptoms such as liver necrosis can be observed as well. Similar effects might occur in other species such as red drum (Sciaenops occellatus) and rohu (Labeo rohita). 

In tilapia, AFB1 affects the growth rate and FCR at concentrations ranging from 100 to 2500 ppb, however some studies showed how already 50 ppb were enough to cause liver necrosis.

Deoxynivalenol 

Some aquatic species are sensitive to deoxynivalenol (DON), especially salmonids such as rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon. Both species show sensitivity at low levels (300-500 ppb). The main symptoms observed in several studies were significant decreases in: 

  • Growth  
  • Feed intake  
  • Feed efficiency 
  • Protein  
  • Energy utilization  
Zearalenone 

Studies on the effects of zearalenone (ZEN) in farm animals have mainly focused on dysfunction or structural disorders of the reproductive tract. Several studies have confirmed that ZEN modulates estrogen receptor-dependent gene expression in aquatic species, thus affecting the reproduction of fish.  

This has been shown in zebrafish (Danio rerio), where the exposure to ZEN reduced spawning frequency, or changed the relative fecundity from one generation to the next. Together with affecting reproduction, ZEN was reported to show genotoxic effects such as defects in heart and eye development and upward curvature of the body axis of zebrafish.  

Fumonisins 

In aquaculture species, fumonisin B1 (FB1) has been generally associated with reduced growth rate, feed consumption and feed efficiency ratio, as well as impaired sphingolipid metabolism. In rainbow trout, FB1 has been shown to induce changes in the liver’s sphingolipid metabolism at levels lower than 100 ppb and was able to induce liver cancer in 1-month-old trout.  

According to the literature, ingestion of FB1 by carp resulted in lesions in liver and pancreas already at concentrations as low as 500 ppb. Performance parameters such as average weight gain and body weight dropped after dietary administration of low doses of FB1. FB1 affected the performance of Nile tilapia as well. Reduced average weight gain and increased Sa/So ratio have been reported in the literature. 

Ochratoxins 

Studies on the toxicity of ochratoxin A (OTA) in aquatic animals are very scarce. The few available studies reported effects such as severe degeneration and necrosis of kidney and liver leading to inferior weight gain, poorer FCR, lower survival rates and hematocrit levels. OTA is also immunosuppressive and one study conducted on catfish showed how animals exposed to this mycotoxin become more susceptible to pathogenic infections.  

Mycotoxins in shrimp

Figure 3. Effects of mycotoxins in shrimp

Aflatoxins 

Impact of mycotoxins in shrimp are less investigated than for fish. However, there is some evidence in the literature. Black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon Fabricius) was reported to be susceptible to levels of AFB1 as low as 20 ppb. The main effects are reduction on weight gain up to 50% compared to the control group.  

In Pacific white shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) exposure to AFB1 is usually associated with increased mortality, damages to hepatopancreas, immune suppression and ultimately, drop in performance parameters.   

Deoxynivalenol 

Regarding the impact of DON on shrimp, those are mostly related to performance, where concentrations as little as 200 ppb have been associated with reduced body weight and/or growth rate. 

Zearalenone 

The impact of ZEN has been investigated on black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon Fabricius). The observed effects were abnormalities in the development of the hepatopancreas, with consequences for the immune system and growth performance.  

Fumonisins 

The effects of FUM in shrimp have not been extensively investigated. However, there is some evidence suggesting that low doses of these mycotoxins are capable of affecting the texture of the flesh, with repercussions on the quality of the product during ice storage.  

Ochratoxins 

OTA is probably the least investigated mycotoxin in shrimp. The few available studies reported atrophy, severe necrosis and degeneration of the hepatopancreas and disruption of the hematopietic tissue and lymphoid organs after oral administration of OTA.  

Synergistic effects of mycotoxins in aquatic species 

There are a limited number of studies where the issue of synergistic interactions between mycotoxins is addressed. FB1 was observed to produce synergistic effects with AFB1 in trout, as it was able to promote the onset of aflatoxin-initiated liver tumor. The combined effects of AFB1 and T-2 toxin were studied in Gambusia affinis.  

Effects of AFB1 and deoxynivalenol were studied on carp (Cyprinius carpio) and it was shown that the negative effects of the two mycotoxins taken together were greater than their effects individually.  

Figure 4. Synergistic interaction between mycotoxins in aquatic species

Mycotoxin occurrence in aquafeeds

The inclusion of plant materials contaminated with mycotoxins in compound aquafeeds will increase the risk of mycotoxin contamination in aquaculture feeds. Gonçalves et al., (2016) compared the mycotoxin occurrence levels from 41 samples of finish aquaculture feed, both shrimp and fish, in Asia and Europe, with the available literature on fish/shrimp mycotoxicoses.  

The authors found that levels found for the samples analyzed during 2014 were within the sensitivity level of several important species in aquaculture. Gonçalves et al. (2016) highlighted the fact that the mycotoxins levels found can compromise aquaculture species, even just taking into account single mycotoxins levels.  

According to Gonçalves et al. (2016) the number of species affected by mycotoxins would be even higher than stated in the study due to the lack of research in some important species and the existence of mycotoxins synergisms not taken into account on that study.  

Mycotoxin occurrence in aquafeeds

Mycotoxin Solutions

  • Mycotoxin Prediction

    The Mycotoxin Prediction Service delivers assessments of expected mycotoxin levels in the upcoming harvest of corn (maize) and wheat around the world.

  • Mycotoxin Contamination

    Our portfolio of tools helps to understand the potential risks of mycotoxins for animal species and location.

  • FUMzyme® Silage

    FUMzyme® Silage is a unique additive sprayed onto corn (maize) at harvest that targets and detoxifies harmful fumonisins, so that the resulting silage is safe and fumonisin-free for livestock nutrition.

  • Mycofix®

    The Mycofix® portfolio of feed additives represents the most state-of-the-art solution for protecting animal health by deactivating mycotoxins that contaminate farm animal feed. Its safety and efficacy are proven by 7 EU authorizations for substances that deactivate mycotoxins.

  • FUMzyme® sol

    FUMzyme®, the only enzyme that effectively detoxifies fumonisins safely and irreversibly, is available for post-pellet and liquid application in animal feed. From the creators of Mycofix®. Naturally Ahead.

  • Mycofix® Plus 5.Z

    Absolute protection against the broadest range of mycotoxins. With ZENzyme® Faster and Better

  • DSM Mycotoxin Survey

    The DSM Mycotoxin Survey constitutes the longest running and most comprehensive data set on mycotoxin occurrence. The survey results provide insights on the incidence of the six major mycotoxins in the agricultural commodities used for livestock feed in order to identify the potential risk posed to livestock animal production.

  • Mycotoxin Detection

    We offer a range of analytical services to customers to assess the mycotoxin contamination of feed materials.

Related Publications

MYCOTOXIN HUB

Latest Mycotoxin Updates

Read more about mycotoxins, get the latest mycotoxin survey reports and more.

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