Magazine article Science News

Rotting Potatoes Harbor Harmful Toxins

Magazine article Science News

Rotting Potatoes Harbor Harmful Toxins

Article excerpt

Rotting potatoes harbor harmful toxins

Shriveled brown spots on potatoes may indicate deadly trichothecene toxins. a new study suggests that potentially harmful levels of the poisons may occur in potatoes infected with a major fungal perpetrator of potato dry-rot, says coauthor Anne E. Desjardins, a biochemist at USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Peoria, III.

If a careful survey of store-bought potatoes confirms these preliminary findings, the safety of infected potatoes "may be something to think about," Desjardins says. However, she emphasizes that it is unclear how much harm the toxin levels found in the study would cause in humans.

"There's routine screening for toxins in corn and wheat ... but potato farmers have never really thought about it," Desjardins says. She and co-worker Ronald D. Plattner were the first to show that strains of Fusarium sambucinum fungi from around the world can produce trichothecenes in potatoes. One previous study demonstrated that store-bought potatoes in France contain potentially dangerous levels of these toxins, but there have been no studies of toxin levels in naturally infected potatoes elsewhere, Desjardins says.

Trichothecene toxins take their toll on fast-growing cells, such as blood, by blocking protein synthesis. Even at low levels, they can cause symptoms in humans ranging from vomiting and hair loss to immunosuppression, central nervous system dysfunction, coma and death, Desjardins says.

Desjardins and Plattner infected potatoes with 15 fungal strains isolated from diseased potato tubers in North America, Australia, Europe and Asia. …

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