Pick up know-how for tackling diseases, pests and weeds.
Farm bill, farm marketing, agribusiness webinars, & farm policy.
Find tactics for healthy livestock and sound forages.
Scheduling and methods of irrigation.
Explore our Extension locations around the state.
Commercial row crop production in Arkansas.
Agriculture weed management resources.
Use virtual and real tools to improve critical calculations for farms and ranches.
Learn to ID forages and more.
Explore our research locations around the state.
Get the latest research results from our county agents.
Our programs include aquaculture, diagnostics, and energy conservation.
Keep our food, fiber and fuel supplies safe from disaster.
Private, Commercial & Non-commercial training and education.
Specialty crops including turfgrass, vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals.
Find educational resources and get youth engaged in agriculture.
Gaining garden smarts and sharing skills.
Timely tips for the Arkansas home gardener.
Creating beauty in and around the home.
Maintenance calendar, and best practices.
Coaxing the best produce from asparagus to zucchini.
What’s wrong with my plants? The clinic can help.
Featured trees, vines, shrubs and flowers.
Ask our experts plant, animal, or insect questions.
Enjoying the sweet fruits of your labor.
Herbs, native plants, & reference desk QA.
Growing together from youth to maturity.
Crapemyrtles, hydrangeas, hort glossary, and weed ID databases.
Get beekeeping, honey production, and class information.
Grow a pollinator-friendly garden.
Schedule these timely events on your gardening calendar.
Equipping individuals to lead organizations, communities, and regions.
Home to the Center for Rural Resilience and Workforce Development.
Guiding entrepreneurs from concept to profit.
Position your business to compete for government contracts.
Find trends, opportunities and impacts.
Providing unbiased information to enable educated votes on critical issues.
Increase your knowledge of public issues & get involved.
Research-based connection to government and policy issues.
Support Arkansas local food initiatives.
Read about our efforts.
Preparing for and recovering from disasters.
Licensing for forestry and wildlife professionals.
Preserving water quality and quantity.
Cleaner air for healthier living.
Firewood & bioenergy resources.
Managing a complex forest ecosystem.
Read about nature across Arkansas and the U.S.
Learn to manage wildlife on your land.
Soil quality and its use here in Arkansas.
Learn to ID unwanted plant and animal visitors.
Timely updates from our specialists.
Eating right and staying healthy.
Ensuring safe meals.
Take charge of your well-being.
Cooking with Arkansas foods.
Making the most of your money.
Making sound choices for families and ourselves.
Nurturing our future.
Get tips for food, fitness, finance, and more!
Understanding aging and its effects.
Giving back to the community.
Managing safely when disaster strikes.
Listen to our latest episode!
By Ryan McGeeneyU of A System Division of AgricultureNov. 22, 2019
(938 words) (Newsrooms, with art of Bluhm at https://flic.kr/p/2hCG6a4 and https://flic.kr/p/TmWqZm. Additional art of the October CAST conference at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJ3ymss)(Download this story in MS Word format here.)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — As the world’s No. 1 agricultural exporter, the United States
is responsible for laying down the first line of defense in the world’s battle for
food safety and security.
Among the most pernicious, naturally occurring threats to that safety are mycotoxins,
a family of toxins generated by fungi attacking grains, nuts and other foods and commodities,
impacting both public health and international trade. Researchers at the University
of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture are leading some of the world’s most cutting-edge
efforts to counter the prevalent toxins.
Burt Bluhm, associate professor of plant pathology for the University of Arkansas,
is primary investigator and director of the Mycotoxin and Seed Borne Disease Research
Lab. After operating out of the Rosen Alternative Pest Control Center on the UA Fayetteville
main campus, the lab relocated in 2018 to the newly-constructed Don Tyson Center for
Agricultural Sciences, several miles north.
Bluhm said that mycotoxins, while pervasive, are still relatively unstudied, compared
to some of the other more pernicious headline grabbers in agriculture.
“Mycotoxins in particular have been overlooked in some corners of the research world,”
Bluhm said. “There are a lot of reasons for that. In some ways, especially in corn,
and in the United States, it’s historically been perceived as a ‘Southern problem’;
Mycotoxins haven’t been as common in the big corn-producing states through the Midwest.”
Mycotoxins are, nevertheless, considered problematic by the United States and other
countries from both economic and health perspectives. The European Union, for example,
has stringent tolerances for the presence of mycotoxins in any grain shipment, especially
imports, leading to the rejection of exports that would otherwise meet or exceed safety
standards at the point of origin. In other areas of the world dealing with elevated
food scarcity, mycotoxins are sometimes tied to severe illness.
“For the E.U., it’s primarily a trade issue,” Bluhm said. “But in developing nations
in Asia and Africa, mycotoxins are a more serious problem. Where food security is
an issue, where people have to eat whatever’s available, if the food’s contaminated
with mycotoxins, you’ll see outbreaks of extreme illness and death.”
How the threat works
Mycotoxins are a family of toxins created when fungi feed on grain — either during
the growing season, or when grain has been improperly stored. The fungi feed off the
available carbohydrates, then secrete toxins into the colonized grain. In addition
to corn, mycotoxins are found in other grains, tree nuts and cotton. There is a concern,
Bluhm said, about possible mycotoxins in rice.
“There are really two issues at play,” Bluhm said. “One is that ‘a little bit of mycotoxin
goes a long way,’ so to speak. So even if you have a low percentage of infected kernels,
the ‘mycotoxin-per-kernel’ can be very high. So at the level of a truckload, when
that grain is eventually homogenized, even a relatively low incidence of infection
can lead to serious problems.
“The other issue is that while there are relatively few pathogens that produce mycotoxins
of importance, the few species that do are extremely common. They’re ubiquitous, they’re
everywhere. Anywhere grains are grown in the world, these fungi are naturally present.”
The path to Arkansas
Bluhm received his training in pathology, and mycotoxins specifically, at Purdue University
in Indiana. When he arrived in Arkansas, he said, it was clear that the problem was
more widespread in the state’s (and the region’s) corn crops that he had realized.
“It’s a complex problem,” he said. “And it’s a difficult problem to solve. I saw a
really specific need among our stakeholders here in Arkansas and neighboring areas.”
Over the past decade, Bluhm’s lab has worked to map the genetic layout of the 20-30
fungi involved in creating mycotoxins around the world, searching for specific weaknesses
“We’ve worked toward developing transgenic resistance in grains that are susceptible
to the toxins,” Bluhm said. “It’s in the early stages, but it’s promising so far.”
The lab is also working to develop biological control agents to combat mycotoxins.
“In some cases, if you apply a non-toxigenic strain of a species like you would a
fungicide or insecticide, you overwhelm the fungus with that nontoxic cousin of what’s
naturally out there,” Bluhm said. “It can be very effective.”
The scientific community takes note
In October, the Division of Agriculture hosted the annual conference of the Council
for Agricultural Science and Technology, commonly known as CAST. More than 70 representatives
of academic, legal, governmental and other institutions attended the 2019 Annual Fall
Board Meeting, touring facilities and projects chosen to highlight the university’s
efforts and contributions to modern agriculture.
Dr. Mark Cochran, vice president for agriculture for the University of Arkansas System,
said he selected Bluhm’s lab for conference attendees to tour because, in addition
to the lab being fundamentally important to international food safety, it also speaks
to CAST’s concerns regarding the advancement of science and technology within the
world of agriculture.
“We tried to match our expertise with some of the issues CAST is addressing,” Cochran
said. “CAST is organized into animal, plant and food working groups. A lot of the
more complex issues are going to transcend all three of those areas.”
Cochran also noted that Bluhm has been broadly recognized for his work as a molecular
pathologist with particular expertise in mycotoxins of grain, Cercospora diseases
of corn and soybeans and the development of novel approaches for disease control.
“His approaches have included molecular genetics, gene editing and the use of RNA
interference,” Cochran said. “His research has been supported by several nationally
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uark.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch and Instagram at ArkAgResearch.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Media Contact: Ryan McGeeneyCommunication ServicesU of A System Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org