Corn Farmers May Enlist Bacteria Against
June 30, 1999
Farmers may soon plant corn seed inhabited by a beneficial bacterium that
will protect the crop from a fungal toxin from the time the plants come up, an
Agricultural Research Service scientist
reported today at a conference in Arlington, Va. Fumonisin toxins can
potentially threaten the safety of food and feed made with corn and other
Bacillus subtilis bacteria live naturally--and harmlessly--in corn
plants. In 1996, ARS microbiologist Charles Bacon began his research and
discovered the bacteria could serve as benign "squatters" that
deprive the toxin-producing fungi of space to take hold and grow.
Gustafson LLC, a seed company in Plano,
Texas, is interested in the ARS technology and is developing and testing a
bacterial seed treatment.
Fumonisin toxin is made by Fusarium moniliforme fungi. If consumed in
high amounts, the toxin can cause a fatal disease in horses, known as
leukoencephalomalacia. In several countries, high levels of fumonisin in moldy
corn have been suspected of causing esophageal cancer in humans.
Bacon works at ARS'
and Mycotoxin Research Unit in Athens, Ga. In his approach, called
competitive exclusion, harmless B. subtilis forestalled invasion by the
fungi in lab and greenhouse tests and in small field plots in Georgia and Iowa.
Bacon and colleagues are also testing a species of Trichoderma fungus
against F. moniliforme during late stages of crop growth and during
Bacon and about 20 other scientists are sharing their fumonisin research
findings this week at the International Conference on the
Toxicology of Fumonisin. At the June 28- 30 conference, participants are
reviewing current data and research so they can identify critical data gaps and
The conference was organized and sponsored by USDA, U.S. Food
and Drug Administration, National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the
North American Branch of the
nonprofit International Life Sciences
Institute. ARS is the USDA's chief scientific agency.
Scientific contact: Charles Bacon, ARS
and Mycotoxin Research Unit , Athens, Ga., phone (706) 546-3158, fax (706)