Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are carbon-compounds that easily evaporate at room temperature. Toxins are biologically produced poisons; mycotoxins are those toxins produced by microscopic fungi. All fungi emit blends of VOCs; the qualitative and quantitative composition of these volatile blends varies with the species of fungus and the environmental situation in which the fungus is grown. These fungal VOCs, produced as mixtures of alcohols, aldehydes, acids, ethers, esters, ketones, terpenes, thiols and their derivatives, are responsible for the characteristic moldy odors associated with damp indoor spaces. There is increasing experimental evidence that some of these VOCs have toxic properties. Laboratory tests in mammalian tissue culture and Drosophila melanogaster
have shown that many single VOCs, as well as mixtures of VOCs emitted by growing fungi, have toxic effects. This paper describes the pros and cons of categorizing toxigenic fungal VOCs as mycotoxins, uses genomic data to expand on the definition of mycotoxin, and summarizes some of the linguistic and other conventions that can create barriers to communication between the scientists who study VOCs and those who study toxins. We propose that “volatoxin” might be a useful term to describe biogenic volatile compounds with toxigenic properties.
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