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Gene Expression Profile and Response to Maize Kernels by Aspergillus flavus

July 2011 , Volume 101 , Number  7
Pages  797 - 804

Brittiney N. Reese, Gary A. Payne, Dahlia M. Nielsen, and Charles P. Woloshuk

First and fourth authors: Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907; second author: Department of Plant Pathology, and third author: Department of Genetics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695.

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Accepted for publication 9 February 2011.

Aspergillus flavus causes an ear rot of maize, often resulting in the production of aflatoxin, a potent liver toxin and carcinogen that impacts the health of humans and animals. Many aspects of kernel infection and aflatoxin biosynthesis have been studied but the precise effects of the kernel environment on A. flavus are poorly understood. The goal of this research was to study the fungal response to the kernel environment during colonization. Gene transcription in A. flavus was analyzed by microarrays after growth on kernels of the four developmental stages: blister (R2), milk (R3), dough (R4), and dent (R5). Five days after inoculation, total RNA was isolated from kernels and hybridized to Affymetrix Gene Chip arrays containing probes representing 12,834 A. flavus genes. Statistical comparisons of the expression profile data revealed significant differences that included unique sets of upregulated genes in each kernel stage and six patterns of expression over the four stages. Among the genes expressed in colonized dent kernels were a phytase gene and six putative genes involved in zinc acquisition. Disruption of the phytase gene phy1 resulted in reduced growth on medium containing phytate as the sole source of phosphate. Furthermore, growth of the mutant (Δphy1) was 20% of the wild-type strain when wound inoculated into maize ears. In contrast, no difference was detected in the amount of aflatoxin produced relative to fungal growth, indicating that phy1 does not affect aflatoxin production. The study revealed the genome-wide effects of immature maize kernels on A. flavus and suggest that phytase has a role in pathogenesis.

© 2011 The American Phytopathological Society