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ID 989

Causes, Mold: Aflatoxin

Description:
In this section learn how Aflatoxin a contaminating byproduct of mold caused liver cancer in animals and solicited strict guidelines to regulate the levels of Aflatoxin in the U.S. food supply today.
Transcript:
Aflatoxin In 1960, mold-contaminated peanut meal was shipped from Brazil to England and fed to millions of turkeys, which in turn died of liver toxicity. Aflatoxin – a byproduct of the contaminating molds – was isolated and identified as the cause of the turkey deaths, and has been shown to cause liver cancer in other animals. Today, strict guidelines are in place to regulate the levels of aflatoxin in the U.S. food supply. Click the forward arrow or the numbers below to find out more about aflatoxin. John Groopman, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research focuses on the molecular causes and effects of environmental factors that may lead to the development of cancers. This research has led to the development of biomarkers used in studies of high-risk aflatoxin-hepatitis B populations specifically in China. “Aflatoxin is produced by a variety of molds and these molds contaminate the grains either outside or they can actually penetrate inside the grains. And then aflatoxin itself is a metabolite, it's actually a product that the mold produces that is then excreted out and contaminates the grain. The toxicity of aflatoxin and its potency as a carcinogen was recognized very early in the 1960s and as a consequence the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture put in place regulations very early on in the studies of this compound to regulate the levels of aflatoxin that would be permitted in the food supply. It was further recognized that just the physical examination of a corn grain product, or peanut butter, or peanut product was inadequate to determine whether aflatoxin was present. And only a specific chemical analysis of the grain or grain product could be performed in order to determine if aflatoxin was really there.” Thomas Kensler, Ph.D. is a professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research focuses on the molecular mechanisms involved in the development of cancers linked to exposure to environmental carcinogens. This research has led to potential chemopreventative strategies for liver cancer in populations at high risk for aflatoxin exposure. “Aflatoxin is a very lipid soluble molecule so that when we ingest it, it's rapidly absorbed. And it goes first to the liver where there are enzymes that will chemically biotransform it into a very reactive chemical, which attacks with very high preference, our DNA, causing damage to that DNA, mutations, perhaps in genes that enhance our susceptibility to cancer production. Aflatoxin is also a very cytotoxic molecule so it will directly kill some of our liver cells creating a void, if you will, that causes the remaining liver cells to replicate and perhaps grow at a faster rate than we would like. The combination of DNA damage and cell proliferation triggers the liver cancer process.”
Keywords:
john hopkins bloomberg school of public health, liver toxicity, environmental health sciences, food and drug administration, liver cancer, aflatoxin, grain product, school of public health, hepatitis b, strict guidelines, department of agriculture, biomarkers, carcinogen, metabolite, food supply, byproduct
Creative Commons License This work by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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