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Comparison of Soil and Corn Kernel Aspergillus flavus Populations: Evidence for Niche Specialization

August 2011 , Volume 101 , Number  8
Pages  952 - 959

Rebecca Ruth Sweany, Kenneth Eugene Damann Jr., and Michael Douglas Kaller

First and second authors: Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, and third author: School of Renewable Natural Resources, Louisiana State University AgCenter, Baton Rouge 70803.

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Accepted for publication 6 March 2011.

Aspergillus flavus is considered a generalist-opportunistic pathogen, but studies are beginning to show that A. flavus populations have strains specific to various hosts. The research objective was to determine whether A. flavus soil populations consist of solely saprophytic strains and strains which can be facultatively parasitic on corn. A. flavus was isolated from both corn kernels and soil within 11 Louisiana fields. Sixteen vegetative compatibility groups (VCGs) were identified among 255 soil isolates. Only 6 of the 16 VCGs were identified in the 612 corn isolates and 88% of corn isolates were in two VCGs, whereas only 5% of soil isolates belonged to the same two VCGs. Isolates were characterized for aflatoxin B1 production and sclerotial size. A random subset of the isolates (99 from corn and 91 from soil) were further characterized for simple-sequence repeat (SSR) haplotype and mating type. SSR polymorphisms revealed 26 haplotypes in the corn isolates and 78 in the soil isolates, and only 1 haplotype was shared between soil and corn isolates. Corn and soil populations were highly significantly different for all variables. Differences between corn and soil populations indicate that some soil isolates are not found in corn and some isolates have become specialized to infect corn. Further understanding of A. flavus virulence is important for development of resistant hybrids and for better biological control against toxigenic A. flavus.

© 2011 The American Phytopathological Society