How do mycotoxins challenge shrimp robustness?

A recent (2023) market analysis report expects the global shrimp market to reach from US$ 46.94 Billion in 2022 to US$ 69.35 Billion by 2028 (1). This growth will primarily come from Litopenaeus vannamei (Pacific white shrimp) which currently makes up >50% of production volume, followed by Peneaus monodon (black tiger shrimp) (1). Produced across Asia-Pacific (India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, Malaysia), China and Latin America (Ecuador), shrimp is a global commodity, providing an important protein source for human consumption and essential vitamins and trace elements. Regardless of production country, a major bottleneck for further expansion is the widespread occurrence of disease, as well as shrimp`s sensitivity to environmental fluctuations and stressors. A robust shrimp will be less susceptible to disease and environmental stressors.

Nutritional requirements and major feed ingredients

Like all living animals, shrimp have a requirement for certain nutrients, including amino-acids, cholesterol, vitamins, and minerals. Although dietary formulations vary depending on raw material availability, price, and developmental stage, typically one can expect 25 - >40% crude protein, 6-12% crude lipid (2) as well as essential micro-nutrients. For vitamin recommendations, dsm-firmenich has developed Optimum Vitamin Nutrition® guidelines. An example of a typical shrimp diet is given in Table 1.

Table 1: A typical formulated high protein (42%) L. vannamei diet in Asia
Raw materialInclusion (%)
Fish meal, SE Asia, 60% CP15
Poultry meal, 58% CP18.44
Soybean meal, Brazil, 45% CP12.13
Wheat, flour28.124
Mineral premix1
Vitamin premix0.33
Shrimp head meal2.38
Vitamin C, Stay C0.006
Wheat gluten meal, 70% CP2.5
Soy lecithin1.68
Fish solubles, dehydrated, 40% CP1
Fish meal, SE Asia, 64% CP5
Soy protein concentrate, 60% CP10
Mycotoxin binder, Mycofix0.1
Blood meal, whole, spray-dried0.6
Fish oil, mackerel0.66

From a macro-ingredient perspective, shrimp feeds are following the global trend to reduce reliance on marine ingredients, often through increased usage of plant-based raw materials.

Plant proteins, while they can significantly boost overall protein content, come with potential drawbacks. Even when diets are carefully balanced to address amino acid limitations, incorporating more plant-based ingredients raises the risk of introducing undesirable contaminants, which can adversely affect the health and performance of shrimp. These contaminants may consist of anti-nutritional factors (ANFs), such as mycotoxins.

Effects of mycotoxins in shrimp

Although mycotoxin effects have been extensively investigated in land-based animals, there is a notable scarcity of research, particularly in the context of aquaculture, specifically regarding shrimp. Unlike terrestrial animals, aquatic species seldom exhibit obvious clinical symptoms as a result of mycotoxin contamination. Instead, they are more commonly subjected to prolonged exposure to moderate levels of mycotoxins, which is known as chronic exposure. This chronic exposure can lead to non-specific consequences, such as reduced performance (slower growth, higher feed conversion ratios), increased susceptibility to diseases, and elevated healthcare costs. However, these subtle effects are often overlooked or not attributed to the presence of mycotoxins.

Effects of mycotoxins on hepatopancreas

The hepatopancreas is the main site for nutrient metabolism and detoxification of xenobiotics in crustaceans. Several studies show detrimental effects of mycotoxins on this organ as changes in histology or lesions (Table 2). Detrimental effects on this organ may influence nutrient metabolism and decrease energy of animals to gain weight and deal with other stress factors. The hepatopancreas is the site of hemocyte production, maturation, specialization, and release. Immunologic function in shrimp largely relies on the activity of these hemocytes: cells carrying out numerous functions including phagocytosis and recognition of pathogens. If the health of the hepatopancreas is compromised so might be the immune system (3).

In shrimps, most studies have been conducted with Afla B1, the most toxic and carcinogenic mycotoxin.

Table 2: Summary of observed effects of mycotoxins on hepatopancreas (selected studies). DON = deoxynivalenol; T-2 = T-2 toxin; ZEN = zearalenone; FUM = fumonisins.
 White-leg shrimpBlack-tiger shrimp
Afla B1

Abnormal development hepatopancreas, tissue changes and lesions, changes in haemolymph, but also: decreased weight gain, increased mortality

(4), (5), (6), (7)


High variation in sensitivity between studies:

  • 75 ppb: decreased performance (5)
  • 11 ppb: histological lesions (8)

Abnormal development hepatopancreas, tissue changes and lesions, changes in haemolymph, but also: decreased weight gain, increased mortality

(12), (13), (14)


High variation in sensitivity between studies:

  • >500 ppb: lesions in hepatopancreas
    >1000 ppb: decreased performance (12)
  • 10 ppb: increased mortality
    5 ppb: performance losses (13)

Histological changes with increasing concentrations (starting with commonly detected 360 ppb) (9)


Also reduced performance observed
(200 ppb; (10))

Also reduced performance observed
(500 ppb; (15))
T-2 Histological changes in hepatopancreatic tubules (high inclusion 2 ppm) (16)
ZEN Histological changes (starting with inclusion of 500 ppb ZEN in diet) (16)
FUMHistological changes with increasing inclusion (starting with commonly detected 500 ppb) (11) 

Effects of mycotoxins on intestine

The shrimp intestine is an important part of the immune system as the first barrier between the body and toxic entities. Peer-reviewed publications show that several mycotoxins do impact intestinal structure and immune system. Some recent studies focused on the expression of genes important for the immune system, and immune regulation. Table 3 gives a summary of the observed effects.

Table 3: Summary of of observed effects of mycotoxins on intestine and immune system (selected studies). DON = deoxynivalenol; T-2 = T-2 toxin; ZEN = zearalenone; FUM = fumonisins.
 White-leg shrimpBlack-tiger shrimp
Afla B1Immunosuppressing mycotoxin (low levels: activation of immune system; high levels: strong weakening and suppression)
(17), (8)

Increased susceptibility to disease
(70 ppb: higher occurrence of shell disease)



Change in microstructure of intestinal epithelial cells (~500 ppb: fusion of mucosal folds)

Impairing anti-oxidative defense system and influencing two important immune pathways (NF-κB pathway, proPO system)


Damage in microstructure of intestine
(500 ppb: inflammation of mucosal tissue)



Influence on immune system

(Decreased levels of haematocytes)


Changes in the intestinal epithelial cells (as shown for e.g. DON and T-2 toxin) might negatively affect nutrient absorption and thus wellbeing and performance of shrimp.

Effects of mycotoxins on product quality

With all these results showing negative effects on the hepatopancreas, intestine, performance, and probably immune system, let`s not forget about final product quality. Possible residues of Afla in shrimp need further exploration ((8): found residues in hepatopancreas but not muscle). One study indicated a possible impact of FUM (fumonisins )-contaminated diet on shrimp muscle texture, which might affect consumer acceptance.

Importance of Mycotoxin Risk Management

The risk of mycotoxin contamination is never zero! Even with the best quality control procedures, mycotoxins are a constant threat, and therefore a robust mycotoxin risk management program is essential. Part of this is using a mycotoxin deactivator in the feed formulation. Mycofix® is a state-of-the-art mycotoxin deactivator comprising three modes of action for the ultimate insurance policy against a wide range of known, and emerging mycotoxins. Adsorption to bind adsorbable mycotoxins, biotransformation to detoxify non-adsorbable mycotoxins and bioprotection, natural ingredients supporting hepatopancreas, immune system and intestinal barrier.

An in-house trial was performed with white-leg shrimp (initial weight of ~1.325g) over 8 weeks. Survival and performance were evaluated in comparison to a group with the same moderately contaminated diet but also the inclusion (2.5 kg/t) of Mycofix® PRO-tect (combining the adsorption and bioprotection component). Feed was analyzed with the multi-mycotoxin method Spectrum 380®, the most comprehensive analysis method available covering >800 different mycotoxins and fungal/plant- and bacterial metabolites, developed and performed at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Vienna/Tulln). The feed showed only moderate natural contamination levels of mycotoxins and emerging mycotoxins (DON 12ppb, ZEN 13 ppb, Beauvericin 2.8ppb, Enniatin B 1.6ppb and Enniatin B1 2.7 ppb as well as moderate levels of other Fusarium metabolites) (see Table 4).

Table 4: Detailed list of mycotoxins and other metabolites detected in ppb (µg/kg). (M=major mycotoxins, E=emerging mycotoxins, *no standard for quantification available)
Bacterial metabolites 
cyclo (L-Pro-L-Val)2373.0
Enniatin BE2.6
Enniatin B1E2.7
Fusarium metabolites 
Metabolites from other fungi 
Neoechinulin A12.0
Penicillium Toxins 
Plant metabolites 
Abscisic acid132.5
Unspecific metabolites 
Brevianamid F537.6
cyclo (L-Pro-L-Tyr)3711.0
Fellutanine A42.9
Neoechinulin D 

After 56 days, survival and feed conversion ratio (FCR) was significantly improved in the group with the inclusion of Mycofix® PRO-tect compared to the control group (Figure 1a and 1b).

Fig 1a: Survival rate (%) determined after 28 and 57 days. Day 57 shows a significant improved survival rate in the group with Mycofix® PRO-tect compared to control group.
Fig 1b: FCR determined after 28 and 58 days. After 57 days, FCR was significantly improved in Mycofix® PRO-tect group.

Based on FCR results alone (i.e. excluding survival and performance gains), an economic calculation also showed a very strong return on investment (ROI) and low breakeven (Table 5).

Table 5: Economic calculation using real-time data and scaled up for 1 ha shrimp pond, based on FCR improvements alone and with a stocking density of 100 PL/ m2. Calculations assume a feed price of 1 USD/ kg and 5 USD/ kg for shrimp selling price (size 50)
Revenue from salesUSD95000.0095000.00
Total feed costUSD27189.0024777.90
Revenue - feed cost 67811.0070222.10
Net incomeUSD 2411.10
Net income per animalUSD cents/animal 0.25
Return on Investment  15.67
Breakeveng/animal 0.03

This trial demonstrates that Mycofix® PRO-tect has clear benefits on the shrimp (improving performance, health and welfare) and also on the business (driving profitability).

Protection and thus improved performance is due to the combination of two components: the mineral adsorbent to efficiently bind adsorbable mycotoxins and the bioprotection mix to support the health and functionality of the hepatopancreas, the immune system, and the gastrointestinal barrier when mycotoxins are present.

These results underline the importance of proper mycotoxin risk management to protect shrimp from the adverse effects of mycotoxins, thus supporting the robustness of shrimp and the profitability of shrimp farming.


  3. Loker, et al. (2004). Invertebrate immune systems – not homogeneous, not simple, not well understood. Immunology Reviews 198:10–24.
  4. Ostrowski-Meissner et al. 1995: Sensitivity of the Pacific white shrimp, Penaeus vannamei, to aflatoxin B 1. Aquacuiture131(1995)155-164
  5. Mireya Tapia-Salazar et al. 2017: Evaluating the efficacy of commercially available aflatoxin binders for decreasing the effects of aflatoxicosis on Pacific white shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei. Hidrobiológica vol.27 no.3 Ciudad de México sep./dic. 2017
  6. Zhao, et al. (2017). Transcriptome, antioxidant enzyme activity and histopathology analysis of hepatopancreas from the white shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei fed with aflatoxin B1(AFB1). Developmental and Comparatve Immunology 74:69–81.
    Zhao, et al. (2018). Analysis of the expression of metabolism-related genes and histopathology of the hepatopancreas of white shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei fed with aflatoxin B1. Aquaculture 485:191–196.
  7. Yu, Y., et al. (2018). Detoxification and immunoprotection of Zn(II)-curcumin in juvenile Pacific white shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) feed with aflatoxin B1. Fish and Shellfish Immunology 80:480–486.
  8. Chen et al. 2020: Changes in growth performance, aflatoxin B1 residues, immune response and antioxidant status of Litopenaeus vannamei fed with AFB1-contaminated diets and the regulating effect of dietary myo-inositol supplementation. Food Chemistry 324 (2020) 126888
  9. Xie et al 2018: Effect of deoxynivalenol on growth performance, histological morphology, anti-oxidative ability and immune response of juvenile Pacific white shrimp, Litopenaeus vannamei. Fish and Shellfish Immunology 82 (2018) 442–452
  10. Trigo-Stockli, et al. (2000). Utilization of deoxynivalenol-contaminated hard red winter wheat for shrimp feeds. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 31:247–254.
  11. Mexia-Salaza et al. 2008. Role of fumonisin B1 on the immune system, histopathology, and muscle proteins of white shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei). Food Chemistry 110 (2008) 471–479
  12. Boonyaratpalin, et al. (2001). Effects of aflatoxin B1 on growth performance, blood components, immune function and histopathological changes in black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon Fabricius). Aquaculture Research 32:388–398.
  13. Bintvihok, et al. (2003). Aflatoxin contamination in shrimp feed and effects of aflatoxin addition to feed on shrimp production. Journal of Food Protection 66:882–885.
  14. Bautistia et al., 1994 Aflatoxin B, Contamination of Shrimp Feeds and its Effect on Growth and Hepatopancreas of Pre-adult Penaeus monodon. J Sci Food Agric 1994,65,5-11
  15. Supamattaya, et al. (2005). Effects of ochratoxin A and deoxynivalenol on growth performance and immuno-physiological parameters in black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon). Journal of Science and Technology 27(Suppl. 1):91–99.
  16. Bundit, et al. (2006). Effects of mycotoxin T-2 and zearalenone on histopathological changes in black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon Fabricius). Journal of Science and Technology 28(5):937–949.
  17. Wang et al. 2019: Comparative transcriptome analysis reveals the different roles between hepatopancreas and intestine of Litopenaeus vannamei in immune response to aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) challenge. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part C 222 (2019) 1–10
  18. Huang et al. 2019. Effects of T-2 toxin on digestive enzyme activity, intestinal histopathology and growth in shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei. Nature scientific reports: (2019) 9:13175 |

Published on

09 November 2023


  • Mycotoxins
  • Aquaculture
  • Shrimp

About the Author

Anneliese Müller - Product Manager Mycotoxin Risk Management, Animal Nutrition & Health at dsm-firmenich

Anneliese Müller is a Global Product Manager for Mycotoxin Risk Management. She studied biology at the University of Vienna and did her PhD in survival mechanisms of foodborne pathogens  at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. She is regularly working with and publishing the results of the global dsm-firmenich Mycotoxin Survey.

Benedict Standen,  Head, Aqua Marketing Global, Animal Nutrition & Health at dsm-firmenich

Benedict Standen is the Head of Aqua Marketing Global at dsm-firmenich Animal Nutrition & Health. He received his PhD from Plymouth University, where his research focus was feed additives in aquaculture.


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