Aspergillus Flavus Infects Corn Kernels And Affects Their Metabolism

Aspergillus flavus is a common fungi (mold) which produces highly carcinogenic toxins called aflatoxins. Aspergillus flavus frequently infects growing or harvested food crops, especially peanuts (groundnuts) and corn (maize). 

Andrea Dolezal et al. Aspergillus flavus infection induces transcriptional and physical changes in developing maize kernels. Frontiers in Microbiology 2014;5(384):1-10. Article 384.

Aflatoxin production is especially common in foods grown or stored under wet conditions. Aflatoxin consumption in foodstuffs is estimated to cause 25,500 to 155,000 worldwide cases of liver cancer annually.

Aspergillus flavus infection is particularly common among corn plants weakened by disease or excessive heat. Recent research has also reported that Aspergillus flavus infection can produce metabolic changes in corn kernels. A North Carolina study reported that Aspergillus flavus infection of corn kernels resulted in the altered transcription of over 4,000 of 8,875 corn genes studied. (Transcription is the process in which DNA is used to make messenger RNA or mRNA.The mRNA are then used to make proteins by a process called translation.).

Many genes involved in cell defense and hydrolytic enzymes were upregulated, while many genes involved in synthesis of starch and other important metabolic functions were downregulated. These Aspergillus flavus induced changes in corn kernels significantly reduce both corn yield and quality. Many of these metabolic changes induced by Aspergillus flavus infection are believed to be advantageous to the fungus and disadvantageous to the corn kernels. For example, the upregulation of starch degradation enzymes seen may enable the fungus to obtain more carbohydrates. Other metabolic changes may be helpful in reducing Aspergillus flavus infection of corn kernels. Future research is needed in order to develop strains of corn and other crops which are more resistant to Aspergilus flavus and other fungi/molds.


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