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New Computer Program Predicts Mycotoxin Levels in
By Jan Suszkiw
December 21, 2004
Predicting mycotoxin levels in
midwestern corn is now possible with a new computer program developed by
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Mycotoxins are natural carcinogens produced by certain molds, particularly
Aspergillus flavus and Fusarium moniliforme. Strict regulatory
controls determine the sale and use of mycotoxin-containing corn, because of
the carcinogens' potential danger to humans and livestock. Corn with mycotoxin
levels above the allowable limit may be rejected; harvests with levels at or
below the limit may face devalued markets. Annually, mycotoxin-associated
losses cost the U.S. corn industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mycotoxins can be detected in corn through testing. But predicting the
conditions that cause the molds to produce the carcinogens has been a matter of
guesswork, according to
Dowd, an entomologist at the ARS
Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, in Peoria, Ill.
Dowd's solution is Mycotoxin Predictor 1.1. Copyrighted by collaborators at
Illinois Central College, the
Windows-friendly software program uses equations to mathematically predict
mycotoxin levels using temperature, soil type, numbers of insects and other
factors that influence the molds' growth and spread.
By entering such data into the program, a farmer can predict the
likelihood--and levels--of mycotoxin contamination more than a month before
harvest. Mold growth is often tied to insect damage. So, if the program
predicts that mycotoxin problems are likely to arise from heavy insect feeding,
the farmer may opt to spray the crop before caterpillars can hide inside corn
husks and cause damage that allows mold growth.
Dowd wrote the software program in 1998 after six years of collecting data
on field conditions and corn ear contamination in connection with two
mycotoxins, aflatoxin and fumonisin. He validated the program's predictions by
comparing them with an independent lab's analysis of mycotoxin levels in more
than two dozen corn hybrids used in field tests from 2000 to 2003 in
collaboration with the Central Illinois Irrigated Growers Association.
ARS is seeking a software company that can market Mycotoxin Predictor 1.1 to
farmers, millers, refiners and others.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.