Mycotoxins are natural fungal products that are defined by their harmful effects on humans and animals. Aflatoxin contamination of maize by Aspergillus species and trichothecene contamination of small grains by Fusarium species are two of the most severe mycotoxin problems in the United States. We are investigating RNA silencing in an effort to identify novel ways to control mycotoxin contamination of crops. Transformation of two Aspergilli (A. flavus and A. parasiticus) and a Fusarium (F. graminearum) with inverted repeat transgenes (IRT) containing sequences of mycotoxin-specific regulatory genes suppressed mycotoxin production in all three plant-pathogenic fungi. This atoxigenic phenotype was stable during infection on corn and wheat, and importantly, F. graminearum IRT strains were less virulent on wheat than were wild type. The IRT did not alter physiological characteristics of the fungi, such as spore production and growth rate on solid media. These results indicate that RNA silencing exists in Aspergillus and Fusarium plant pathogens and suggest that RNA silencing technology may be a useful tool for eliminating mycotoxin contamination of agricultural products.
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