The biochemistry and medical aspects of naturally occurring toxins.
The work presented here represents research done on mycotoxins and plant toxins by the author and his postgraduate students over a period from 1964 to date. The first phase, which ends at 1980, mainly addresses the biosynthesis of the aflatoxins. The involvement of anthraquinone derivatives in this process was investigated and the role of versicolorin A and its derivatives was partially elucidated. Novel active enzymes systems were derived from protoplasts and used in these studies. The period lasting from 1980 to 1992 concentrates on the occurrence of mycotoxins in agricultural commodities and effects on animals and their systems. Over 7000 samples were analysed using a multimycotoxin analytical method and a fungal screen. The most common mycotoxin found was aflatoxin B₁ and prevalent fungus was Fusarium moniliforme. Later work is indicating that fumonisin B₁ is the most commonly occurring mycotoxin. As this was only discovered in 1988, its presence was only looked from 1995 onwards. It was also found that rumen fluid could metabolise trichothecenes. During this period (1980-1992) further work on aflatoxin metabolism was done and a novel dehydrogenase involved in aflatoxin B₁ was isolated and characterised. An Elisa assay was developed for atractyloside, a toxin found in a plant (Callilepis laureola) used in tradition medicine. The site of atractyloside storage was found to be in the plant vacuole. The final period covers 1992 to the present, where the occurrence and effects of mycotoxins in human disease were studied. The major and most important finding is that fumonisin B₁ is present in the blood and tissues of many of the Black population examined in Kwazulu Natal. This includes, oesophageal cancer patients, eclamptic patients, school children and members of the rural population. A similar circumstance also appertains for the presence of aflatoxin B₁. It seems likely from these results that chronic mycotoxicoses are a common occurrence, particularly in the Black rural population and are not the sporadic rare event that is found in the first world countries.