Location: Food and Feed Safety Research
Project Number: 6054-42000-026-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated
Start Date: Jun 14, 2016
End Date: Jun 13, 2021
Objective 1. Determine the mechanism by which atoxigenic strains of Aspergillus flavus reduce pre-harvest aflatoxin contamination by toxigenic strains. Objective 2. Determine the role of mating-type genes and climatic (environmental) stressors on the ability of Aspergillus flavus biocontrol strains to compete, survive and recombine, thereby impacting the persistence and efficacy of these strains.
Aflatoxins are toxic and carcinogenic secondary metabolites that contaminate important agricultural commodities. One implemented strategy for prevention of aflatoxin contamination involves field application of a biocontrol agent, comprised of one or more nonaflatoxigenic Aspergillus (A.) flavus strains, to the soil and aerial parts of susceptible plants during the growing season. This strategy greatly reduces aflatoxin contamination by indigenous strains. However, the mechanism responsible for this reduction is unknown. In order to develop strategies that will increase the effectiveness of this approach and address unintended or unforeseen consequences, it is important to elucidate how introduced nonaflatoxigenic strains prevent native toxigenic strains from affecting crops. It is important to determine if the ability of the atoxigenic strain to outcompete the toxigenic strain is through chemo-regulation or simply by occupying the same niche. Examination of the transcriptomic and metabolomic profiles of biocontrol strains during interactions with toxigenic strains will allow us to better elucidate the molecular mechanisms controlling efficacy traits for generating improved biocontrol agents. Additionally, evidence for sexual recombination has been obtained in natural A. flavus populations, and laboratory pairing of sexually compatible A. flavus strains. However, it must be ascertained that such recombination does not occur at a high enough frequency to affect the stability of the biocontrol strains, especially under higher ecological stress. The proposed study will establish the conditions for long-term ecological stability of biocontrol strains and provide insights that will help improve the efficacy of pre-harvest biocontrol. Through our studies we hope to provide guidance for those who will use biocontrol and ensure they know: how to select a stable biocontrol strain, the absolute frequency of its application, and its measure to overcome any potential pitfalls.