Introduction

Zearalenone is a mycotoxin produced by several Fusarium species. The term mycotoxin refers to a large number of chemically diverse toxic secondary metabolites formed by fungi imperfectly growing on agricultural commodities. Since the discovery of the aflatoxins in 1960 and subsequent recognition that mycotoxins are of significant health concern to both humans and animals, regulations gradually developed for mycotoxins in food and feed. Fusarium diseases of wheat, barley, and maize cause significant yield losses worldwide and are therefore of great economic importance (Sutton 1982; Diekman and Green 1992; Parry et al. 1995; Miedaner 1997; Mesterhazy et al. 1999; Malekinejad et al. 2007). The influence of host cultivars on the pathogenicity and toxicity of Fusarium fungi has been extensively reviewed (Miedaner 1997; Mesterhazy et al. 1999; Miedaner et al. 2001; Magg et al. 2002). Mycotoxins can contaminate grains in the field when environmental conditions favour fungal infection, and levels can increase dramatically if storage conditions are favourable for fungal growth. The influence of climatic factors on Fusarium diseases is complicated by the fact that Fusarium fungi can cause disease individually or in complex infections (Doohan et al. 1998), and there are numerous reports on how species differentially respond to different environmental variations, particularly temperature and humidity (Doohan et al. 2003). Therefore, it was expected that the different climatic conditions during the years surveyed would be associated with differences in the preharvest occurrence of Fusarium toxins. The European Commission has recently specified the maximum levels of Fusarium toxins that will be allowed from July 2006 onwards. Maximum levels of 200 and 100 mg/kg have been specified for zearalenone in unprocessed corn and unprocessed cereals other than corn, respectively (Javier et al. 2007; Hans et al. 2007)

In spite of the fact that contamination of cereals and grains and related products with mycotoxins causes food and feed-borne intoxications in man and livestock, zearalenone in low concentrations can be treated as a plant hormone which influences the development and yield of crop plants (Biesaga-Koscielniak 2001). This review focuses on the effect of low doses of zearalenone on the stimulation of selected physiological processes in plants important for agriculture production.

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