Mycotoxicological research in South Africa 1910-2011

Marasas W.E.O. ; Gelderblom W.C.A. ; Shephard G.S. ; Vismer H.F. (2012)


The British mycologist, I.B. Pole-Evans, was appointed as the first South African government mycologist in 1905 following the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute was founded in 1908 with the Swiss veterinarian, Arnold Theiler, as the first director. Thus, the stage was set for the commencement of mycotoxicological research when the Union of South Africa came into being in 1910. The first accounts of this pioneering research appeared in the 'Seventh and eight reports of the Director of Veterinary Research, Union of South Africa. 1918' in which D.T. Mitchell reported on the experimental reproduction of the neurotoxic syndrome, diplodiosis, in cattle with pure cultures of Stenocarpella maydis (= Diplodia zea) isolated by P.A. Van der Bijl and grown on sterile maize kernels. This is the first report of the experimental reproduction of a veterinary mycotoxicosis with a pure culture of a fungus in South Africa and possibly in the world. This seminal research was followed by a great deal of multidisciplinary research on veterinary mycotoxicoses as well as human syndromes in which fungal toxins are suspected to be involved, taxonomy of mycotoxigenic fungi and chemistry of mycotoxins in South Africa. The mycotoxicoses studied in South Africa include the following (more or less in chronological order): diplodiosis, Paspalum staggers, aflatoxicosis, human hepatocellular carcinoma, ochratoxicosis, lupinosis, facial eczema, tremorgenic mycotoxicosis, hyperoestrogenism, stachybotryotoxicosis, ergotism, leukoencephalomalacia and human oesophageal cancer. A major breakthrough in mycotoxicological research was made in South Africa in 1988 with the isolation and chemical characterisation of the carcinogenic fumonisins produced by Fusarium verticillioides in maize. Current research at the PROMEC Unit of the South African Medical Research Council on the risk assessment of fumonisins and intervention methods to reduce fumonisin intake by rural populations on a maize staple diet is highlighted. This paper concludes with a selected list of mycotoxicological publications by South African mycologists/plant pathologists, veterinarians and chemists/biochemists. © 2011 Wageningen Academic Publishers.

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