The application of PCR in the detection of mycotoxigenic fungi in foods.
It is estimated that 25 to 50% of the crops harvested worldwide are contaminated with mycotoxins. Because of the toxic and carcinogenic potential of mycotoxins, there is an urgent need to develop detection methods that are rapid and highly specific. The highly advanced physicochemical methods for the analysis of mycotoxins in use, have the disadvantage that highly sophisticated clean-up and/or derivatization procedures must be applied. An alternative could be the detection of the mycotoxigenic moulds themselves, especially as molecular techniques have been introduced recently as powerful tools for detecting and identifying fungi. PCR methods for the detection of aflatoxigenic Aspergillus, patulin-producing Penicillium and trichothecene- as well as fumonisin-producing Fusarium strains have been described. The usefulness of the PCR methods developed so far to monitor quality and safety in the food and feed industry was already demonstrated. Thus, PCR may be applied to the screening of agricultural commodities for the absence of mycotoxin producers prior to or even after processing. Negative results in this assay indicate that a sample should be virtually free of mycotoxins. Only the positive samples left must be analysed for the presence of mycotoxins using physicochemical standard methods. This review does not only summarize the so far developed qualitative and quantitative PCR assays for the detection of mycotoxigenic fungi in agricultural commodities, foods and animal feeds, but describes also strategies to develop new specific PCR assays for such a detection.