U.S -Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have uncovered 33 new species of toxin-producing fungi within the complex genus Fusarium.

This discovery has far-reaching implications for research aimed at addressing a significant threat to the world’s food supply.

The fungus Fusarium is known for its complexity, housing numerous plant pathogens and toxigenic species that pose a substantial risk to a variety of economically vital crops. Fusarium head blight (FHB), caused by Fusarium, is particularly common and poses a severe threat to cereal crops.

Lead author Imane Laraba, a microbiologist at the ARS Mycotoxin Prevention and Applied Microbiology Research (MPM) unit in Peoria, Illinois, highlighted the harmful effects of the newly identified fungal species.

Laraba explained that these fungi produce mycotoxins with detrimental effects on plant, animal, and human health, and some are responsible for causing severe symptoms of FHB, a disease that significantly impacts cereal crops in the United States.

While most of the fungi were isolated from infected plants, some were discovered in soil samples. The newfound fungal species are now housed at the ARS Culture Collection, part of the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR), which boasts one of the largest public collections of microbes globally, with approximately 98,000 strains.

Kirk Broders, curator of the ARS Culture Collection and microbiologist at MPM, emphasized the global impact of mycotoxins, affecting 25% of the world’s crops each year and resulting in annual yield losses of about 1 billion metric tons of food and food products.

The economic toll in the U.S. due to mycotoxin-induced crop losses is estimated to range from U.S$500 million to U.S$1.5 billion annually.

Broders explained that the toxins produced by some fungi pose a direct threat to livestock and humans, causing illness and potentially leading to carcinogenic effects with regular consumption over time.

FHB annually threatens the U.S. cereal grain industry with an estimated economic loss of U.S$655 million per year.

The fungus infects wheat florets, accumulating in the wheat seeds. If contaminated seeds are processed into flour, the toxins can prompt the rejection of entire grain loads, resulting in losses of up to U.S$1.4 billion annually.

The ARS Culture Collection team aims to compile a more extensive collection of plant pathogenic fungi and bacteria, enabling researchers globally to develop more resistant crops, enhance diagnostic tools, detect and prevent the spread of invasive pathogens, and assess new control compounds.

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