FABI’s very successful and popular International Seminar Series that was established early in 2020 hosted its first seminar for 2021 on 28 January.  Participants were again from many different countries of the world and they had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Prof. Sarah de Saeger from the Centre of Excellence in Mycotoxicology and Public Health at Ghent University in Belgium. Her presentation “Mycotoxins, an important threat to human health?” encompasses her more than 25 years of research experience focussed on the impact of these toxic fungal secondary metabolites on human health.

Professor de Saeger described the intricate relationship between co-occurrence of multiple mycotoxins, climate change and population growth. And in this respect, explained how mycotoxin research has become increasingly complex and must now also consider many interacting factors.  She explained how human mycotoxin exposure can be determined both indirectly using a combination of chemical analysis of foodstuffs and food consumption data. Indirect determination of exposure uses mycotoxin biomarkers (mycotoxin biotransformation products) in biological fluids, such as urine or blood. Thus, in recent years a great effort has been applied towards the development of ultra-sensitive multi-mycotoxin LC-MS/MS methods for the analysis of mycotoxin exposure in urine and blood. 

In her presentation, Prof. de Saeger noted that the mitigation of mycotoxins in the food system requires concerted action and efforts from researchers from different fields of mycotoxicology.  And that stakeholders from the food industry, civil societies and governments must also be engaged. In this regard, she is passionate about building capacity in low- and middle-income countries to assess local risk and help develop crucially important interventions and policies. And as part of this effort, she is is a founder member of the MYTOX-SOUTH initiative, an intercontinental, multi-disciplinary partnership for mitigation of mycotoxins. The aims of MYTOX-SOUTH include the education and training of partners in low- and middle-income countries as well as to conduct research and raise the awareness of mycotoxins. She highlighted the fact that the University of Pretoria will soon sign an MoU to become a member of MYTOX-SOUTH.