Threat assessment of mycotoxins as weapons: Molecular mechanisms of acute toxicity

Avishay Abraham Stark*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Mycotoxins are impractical as tactical weapons, but they can be used by small poor terrorist organizations to poison food and water sources or can be released in crowded, confined areas. Crude concentrated or dried extracts of readily grown fungal cultures can be used as weapons. The production of fungal weapons does not require elaborate facilities for the growth of fungi, sophisticated equipment for the purification of the toxins, or highly trained personnel. Aflatoxin B1, fumonisin B1, ochratoxin A, and the trichothecenes T-2 toxin and deoxynivalenol could be weaponized for bioterrorism. Knowledge of the symptoms of intoxication and the biochemical mechanisms of action of mycotoxins is necessary for the rapid identification of the toxins, the development of prophylactic antidotes, and the design of effective treatments of affected persons. All of these mycotoxins except deoxynivalenol are carcinogens (Stark, A. A., Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 34:235-262, 1980; Stark, A. A., p. 435-445, in P. S. Steyn and R. Vleggaar, ed., Mycotoxins and phycotoxins, 1986; Stark, A. A., p. 47-60, in C. L. Wilson and S. Droby, ed., Microbial food contamination, 2000; Stark, A. A., and N. Paster, p. 60-64, in M. L. Wahlqvist, A. S. Truswell, R. Smith, and P. L. Nestel, ed., Nutrition in a sustainable environment, 1994). Because immediate and widespread death, illness, or panic is the goal of bioterrorists, the mechanisms by which mycotoxins exert acute toxicity are the focus of this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1285-1293
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Food Protection
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2005


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