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Nicotine in cultured mushrooms: contamination or endogenous biosynthesis? (NICOTIMUS)

Main research question/goal
Traces of nicotine are found occasionally in freshly cultivated mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). Where does that nicotine come from? This question is answered in the ‘Nicotimus’ project, via a survey of potential sources of nicotine contamination. We verify these sources in regular cultivating practices by means of precisely developed chemical detection methods. Both the cultivation process itself and the post harvest treatment (storage and processing) of the mushrooms are monitored in this research project. Literature has hypotheses to explain the occurrence of nicotine in mushrooms: exogenous sources (absorption from the environment, illegal use of nicotine as an insecticide or the conversion of neonicotinoids) and endogenous sources (i.e. nicotine biosynthesis in the mushroom). Our research efforts aim to confirm the validity of these hypotheses under field conditions.
Research approach
We evaluate all aspects of the mushroom cultivation process to find out potential sources of nicotine contamination. Furthermore, we develop and validate a liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) based method for the analysis of nicotine (and its precursors: nicotinic acid and putrescine) in mushrooms and in different raw materials (fertilizer and casing medium). We use this optimized analytical procedure to examine whether the presence of nicotine in mushrooms is caused by endogenous or exogenous factors (cultivation in controlled conditions and cultivation with nicotine addition). The collected samples are analyzed immediately (fresh) and after storage and additional treatment.
Because nicotine presents a toxicological risk for humans, the scientific knowledge generated in the NICOTIMUS research project will serve public health. Clarity on the nature (exogenous or endogenous) of the sources of nicotine contamination in mushrooms is expected. An additional asset of this project, aside from the survey of potential nicotine sources during cultivation, is the creation of a validated LC-MS/MS method that can detect and quantify both nicotine and its precursors in one analytical run and in different matrices. The observations and results are translated into practical guidelines and services to all stakeholders.
External partner(s)
Date:1 May 2015  →  30 Apr 2017