The key difference between aflatoxin and mycotoxin is that aflatoxin is a type of poisonous mycotoxin produced by Aspergillus species, while mycotoxin is a secondary metabolite produced by fungi that are capable of causing diseases and death in humans and other animals.
Some fungi cause diseases to human and other animals. They invade animal cells, feeding and growing on them. Other than that, there is another means by which fungi can cause diseases. They are the secondary metabolites that are toxins. Certain fungi, especially moulds, produce secondary metabolites known as mycotoxins. These fungi grow on food and secrete mycotoxins. When we consume foods contaminated with mycotoxins, it causes a variety of adverse health effects and poses a serious health threat to us. There are hundreds of different mycotoxins. Among them, aflatoxin is the most poisonous and commonly encountered mycotoxin produced by Aspergillus species. Hence, this article provides a brief explanation of the difference between aflatoxin and mycotoxin.
What is Aflatoxin?
Aflatoxin is a type of mycotoxin produced by the Aspergillus species. It is one of the most poisonous mycotoxins. Furthermore, aflatoxins are deadly and carcinogenic. Besides, aflatoxins are present commonly in many food varieties, including cereals (corn, sorghum, wheat and rice), oilseeds (soybean, peanut, sunflower and cotton seeds), spices (chili peppers, black pepper, coriander, turmeric and ginger) and tree nuts (pistachio, almond, walnut, coconut and Brazil nut). Aspergillus species such as Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus produce very poisonous aflatoxins. Moreover, there are four major types of aflatoxins: B1, B2, G1, and G2. Among them, aflatoxin B1 is the most potent natural carcinogen.
Aflatoxicosis is the state acute poisoning of aflatoxins, which can cause liver damages. Moreover, they can damage DNA and can cause cancers such as liver cancers. Not only that, they can cause immune suppression as well.
What is Mycotoxin?
The term ‘mycotoxin’ literally means “fungus poisons”. In simple words, they are the toxic substances produced by molds. These moulds grow on numerous food such as cereals, dried fruits, nuts, spices, etc. and produce different types of secondary toxic metabolites. Aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone and nivalenol/deoxynivalenol are several types of mycotoxins. Among them, aflatoxins are the most poisonous and carcinogenic. Moreover, mycotoxins cause a variety of negative health effects on humans and other animals. Most commonly, they cause acute poisoning and immune deficiencies. Not only that, they can induce cancers as well. Other than health problems, mycotoxins can cause problems with food security and nutrition.
The severity of mycotoxin poisoning and symptoms may differ among people since they depend on several factors such as the type of mycotoxin, the amount and duration of the exposure, age, health, sex of the exposed individual, vitamin deficiency, alcohol abuse, and infectious disease status, etc.
What are the Similarities Between Aflatoxin and Mycotoxin?
- Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin.
- Both aflatoxin and mycotoxin are fungal toxins that are secondary metabolites.
- Furthermore, they are naturally occurring in fungi.
- Also, they cause adverse health effects on human and other animals, including cancers, inhibition of protein synthesis, immune-suppression, dermal irritation, and other metabolic perturbations.
- They are commonly found on food.
- Moreover, people get exposed to these toxins directly by eating and indirectly from animals that have fed with contaminated foods.
- Production of mycotoxins and aflatoxins is strain specific.
What is the Difference Between Aflatoxin and Mycotoxin?
Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin produced by an Aspergillus species. Mycotoxin is a secondary metabolite of a mould that is a toxic compound. So, this is the key difference between aflatoxin and mycotoxin. Moreover, there are four types of aflatoxins as B1, B2, G1 and G2 while there are many different types of mycotoxins including aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone and nivalenol/deoxynivalenol, etc. Therefore, we can consider this also as a difference between aflatoxin and mycotoxin.
Summary – Aflatoxin vs Mycotoxin
Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites of certain moulds that are toxic compounds. Mycotoxin production is an alternative way of causing diseases by fungi. There are different types of mycotoxins, among them, aflatoxins are the most poisonous type of mycotoxins produced only by Aspergillus species. Thus, this is the key difference between aflatoxin and mycotoxin.
1. “Mycotoxins.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, Available here.
2. Bennett, J W, and M Klich. “Mycotoxins.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews, American Society for Microbiology, July 2003, Available here.