Zearalenone is an estrogenic mycotoxin commonly found in grains throughout the world. A number of instrument- and antibody-based methods including enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) have been developed to detect zearalenone (ZEN) and related toxins in commodities and foods. Although convenient, the commercial ELISAs for small molecules such as ZEN require a washing step to separate bound and unbound enzyme label before detection. In fluorescence polarization immunoassays, separation of bound and unbound label is not required, a property that reduces the time needed to perform the assays. We developed a fluorescence polarization immunoassay for ZEN in maize. When combined with a rapid extraction technique, the assay could be used to detect as little as 0.11 μg of ZEN g−1 maize within 10 min. The assay showed cross-reactivity to the ZEN analogs zearalanone, α-zearalanol, α-zearalenol, β-zearalenol, and β-zearalanol of 195, 139, 102, 71, and 20%, respectively, relative to ZEN (100%). Recovery of ZEN from spiked maize over the range of 0.5 to 5 μg g−1 averaged 100.2% (n = 12). The fluorescence polarization immunoassay results were comparable to those obtained with a liquid chromatographic method for the analysis of 60 naturally contaminated maize samples and maize samples amended with culture material. The fluorescence polarization immunoassay provides a rapid method for screening of maize for ZEN.

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