The type A trichothecenes T-2 toxin (T-2) and HT-2 toxin (HT-2) are hazardous Fusarium products that contaminate
many field crops growing in cold to temperate regions across the world. Toxicity studies in laboratory and farm animals have been used to derive a temporary tolerable daily intake (t-TDI) for the sum of T-2 and HT-2 of no more than 60 ng/kg body weight. To protect the consumers, it is now necessary to screen a large number of food samples for the presence of these poisonous fungal metabolites. Towards that goal, we discovered that the transcriptional apparatus of a human carcinoma cell line (MCF7) provides a sensitive biological sensor of type A trichothecenes. In fact, exposure of this easy-to-culture cell line to T-2 or HT-2 results in the regulation of >2,000 different transcripts with expression changes ranging from >5,000-fold gene inductions to >40-fold gene repressions. These transcriptional responses have been exploited to develop practical microchip and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assays for the detection of type A trichothecenes at parts per billion levels.