African Journal of Biotechnology

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Infection of maize by Fusarium species and contamination with fumonisin in Africa

P Fandohan, K Hell, WFO Marasas, MJ Wingfield


Fusarium is one of the major fungal genera associated with maize in Africa. This genus comprises several toxigenic species including F. verticillioides and F. proliferatum, which are the most prolific producers of fumonisins. The fumonisins are a group of economically important mycotoxins and very common contaminants of maize-based foods and feeds throughout the world. They have been found to be associated with several animal diseases such as leukoencephalomalacia in horses and pulmonary oedema in pigs. Effects of fumonisins on humans are not yet well understood. However, their occurrence in maize has been associated with high incidences of oesophageal and liver cancer. Infection of maize by Fusarium species and contamination with fumonisins are generally influenced by many factors including environmental conditions (climate, temperature, humidity), insect infestation and pre- and postharvest handling. Attempts to control F. verticillioides and to detoxify or reduce fumonisin levels in maize have been undertaken. However, more research studies are urgently needed in order to understand more about this toxin. Fumonisins are less documented because they are recently discovered mycotoxins compared to aflatoxins. To date in Africa, apart from South Africa, very little information is available on Fusarium infection and fumonisin contamination in maize. It is a matter of great concern that on this continent, millions of people are consuming contaminated maize and maize-based foods daily without being aware of the danger.

Key words: Fusarium, fumonisins, maize, Africa.

African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 2 (12), pp. 570-579, December 2003
AJOL African Journals Online