Secondary metabolites from bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn) are suspected of causing cancer in humans. The main carcinogen is the highly water-soluble norsesquiterpene glucoside ptaquiloside, which may be ingested by humans through food, e.g. via contaminated water, meat or milk. It has been postulated that carcinogens could also be ingested through breathing air containing bracken spores. Ptaquiloside has not previously been identified in bracken spores. The aim of the study was to determine whether ptaquiloside is present in bracken spores, and if so, to estimate its content in a collection of spores from Britain. Ptaquiloside was present in all samples, with a maximum of 29μgg−1, which is very low compared to other parts of the fern. Considering the low abundance of spores in breathing air under normal conditions, this exposure route is likely to be secondary to milk or drinking water.
- Pteridium aquilinum