Submitted to: Mycopathologia
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: September 30, 2006
Publication Date: October 30, 2006
Citation: Bhatnagar, D., Cary, J.W., Ehrlich, K., Yu, J., Cleveland, T.E. 2006. Understanding the Genetics of Regulation of Aflatoxin Production and Aspergillus flavus Development. Mycopathologia. 162:155-166. Technical Abstract: Aflatoxins are polyketide-derived, toxic and carcinogenic secondary metabolites produced primarily by two fungal species, Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, on crops such as corn, peanuts, cottonseed and treenuts. Regulatory guidelines issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prevent sale of commodities if contamination by these toxins exceeds certain levels. The biosynthesis of these toxins has been extensively studied. About 15 stable precursors have been identified. The genes involved in encoding the proteins required for the oxidative and regulatory steps in the biosynthesis are clustered in a 70 kb portion of chromosome 3 in the A. flavus genome. With the characterization of the gene cluster, new insights into the cellular processes that govern the genes involved in aflatoxin biosynthesis have been revealed, but the signaling processes that turn on aflatoxin biosynthesis during fungal contamination of crops are still not well understood. New molecular technologies, such as gene microarray analyses, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and chromatin immunoprecipitation are being used to understand how physiological stress, environmental and soil conditions, receptivity of the plant and fungal virulence lead to episodic outbreaks of aflatoxin contamination in certain commercially important crops. With this fundamental understanding, we will be better able to design improved non-aflatoxigenic biocompetitive Aspergillus strains and develop inhibitors of aflatoxin production (native to affected crops or otherwise) amenable to agricultural application for enhancing host-resistance against fungal invasion or toxin production. Comparisons of aflatoxin-producing species with other fungal species that retain some of the genes required for aflatoxin formation is expected to provide insight into the evolution of the aflatoxin gene cluster, and its role in fungal physiology. Therefore, information on how and why the fungus makes the toxin will be valuable for developing an effective and lasting strategy for control of aflatoxin contamination.