Fumonisins: What are they and what do they do?

Fumonisins (FUM) are a class of mycotoxins that are frequently detected worldwide in corn and corn-based ingredients including distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS). Fumonisins are found in other types of feed ingredients including small grains as well as forages, but the frequency of detection and mean contamination levels are generally greatest in corn products. Since 2014, FUM have been detected in 50 to 80% of the US corn samples screened as part of the dsm-firmenich Mycotoxin Survey.

Reports of probable FUM intoxications date back to the 1970s, but these metabolites were first isolated and described in the late 1980s. More than 15 related metabolites comprise the FUM family, but fumonisins B1 (FB1), B2, and B3 are detected most often, and thus, have been investigated most thoroughly. Fumonsin B1 is reportedly the most potent of these toxins. Several types of fungi are known to synthesize FUM, but Fusarium verticilloides and F. proliferatum are two of key FUM producers. Production of FUM has been associated with drought stress and also linked to insect damage of the corn plant which enables mold to more readily penetrate the ear and kernels. 

These fungal metabolites disrupt sphingolipid metabolism which can lead to negative effects on the health and performance of poultry and other livestock. Sphingolipids are important components of cellular membranes and are also critical in cell signaling pathways. Fumonisins are possible carcinogens (compounds capable of causing cancer in living tissue) and are categorized as group 2B agents by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). As such, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. and various other governing bodies around the world have issued regulatory guidance for fumonisin contamination in livestock and poultry feeds as well as human and pet food. 

Fumonisins can interact with other mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol (DON aka “vomitoxin") and have synergistic effects that impair health and productivity of livestock and poultry beyond what these metabolites might cause on individually. The sphinganine-to-sphingosine (Sa/So) ratio is a well-known mechanism-based biomarker used to evaluate FUM effects. The Sa/So ratio will increase when FUM disrupt sphingolipid metabolism and can be measured in biological matrices including serum. Currently, Sa/So ratio testing is not broadly available on a commercial scale but is frequently used during research studies evaluating the effects of FUM on animals and is a valuable parameter to measure when investigating the efficacy of mitigation options. Some general effects that have been attributed to FUM consumption include:
- poor feed conversion
- reduced weight gain
- diarrhea
- impaired gut integrity
- altered immune response
- liver damage
- residues in liver and kidneys
- increased risk of respiratory challenges

Additionally, porcine pulmonary edema (PPE) is a well-recognized malady in swine attributed to FUM. Horses are another highly susceptible species which may experience equine leukoencephalomalacia (ELEM). Although ruminants and poultry are often thought to be less sensitive to FUM, reports of challenges arising following FUM consumption exist. However, differences occur when it comes to susceptibility across poultry species with ducks and turkeys being reportedly more sensitive than chickens. Furthermore, growing evidence supports that FUM are especially a concern when found in combination with other mycotoxins such as DON due to synergistic effects including altered immune function which can increase susceptibility to pathogens including bacteria and viruses.

Considering the frequent occurrence of FUM in feeds and the potential negative impact these mycotoxins have on animal production following exposure, mitigation options should be considered. Due to their chemical structure and related features, FUM cannot be sufficiently bound by “binders” at the relevant pH along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract as binding is a highly pH-dependent process and the pH throughout much of the GI tract is not favorable to FUM binding. Biotransformation or degradation is an alternative detoxification method which can address mycotoxins that have limited binding potential. 

Fumonisin esterase, FUMzyme®, is a novel, purified enzyme that was developed to specifically and irreversibly degrade fumonisins into non-toxic metabolites, thus limiting the potential impact of fumonisins on animals. FUMzyme is the first mycotoxin degrading ingredient to go through FDA’s Food Additive Petition (FAP) process and is the first product ever to be approved for degrading fumonisins in poultry and swine feed in the U.S. market. This innovative enzyme has been available in the EU since 2014. FUMzyme incorporated within poultry and swine diets acts throughout the digestive tract to rapidly degrade fumonisins. Fumonisin esterase is now available in the US as part of the products Biofix® Plus with FUMzyme® and Biofix® Select with FUMzyme®. If you would like to learn more about these new products, visit dsm.com or contact your dsm-firmenich representative.

Published on

21 November 2022


  • Swine
  • Poultry
  • Ruminants
  • Mycotoxins
  • Mycotoxin Deactivators


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