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Aspergillus flavus Biomass in Maize Estimated by Quantitative Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction Is Strongly Correlated with Aflatoxin Concentration

November 2009 , Volume 93 , Number  11
Pages  1,163 - 1,170

Santiago X. Mideros, Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853; Gary L. Windham and W. Paul Williams, United States Department of Agriculture--Agricultural Research Service, Corn Host Plant Resistance Research Unit, Mississippi State, MS 39762; and Rebecca J. Nelson, Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology and Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

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Accepted for publication 12 July 2009.

Aspergillus flavus causes ear rot of maize and produces aflatoxins that can contaminate grain even in the absence of visible symptoms of infection. Resistance to aflatoxin accumulation and pathogen colonization are considered distinct traits in maize. Colonization of grain by fungi such as A. flavus has been difficult to quantify. We developed and validated two quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays to estimate fungal biomass in maize tissues. In order to study the relationship between fungal biomass and aflatoxin accumulation, qPCR was conducted and aflatoxin concentrations were assayed in milled samples of mature maize kernels for two diverse sets of maize germplasm. The first was a set of hybrids that was inoculated with A. flavus in a conducive field environment in Mississippi. These hybrids, mainly early tropical and non-stiff-stalk genotypes adapted to local conditions, carry known sources of resistance among their progenitors. The second set, also tested in Mississippi, was a group of inbred lines representing a wider sample of maize genetic diversity. For both sets, our results showed a high correlation between fungal load and aflatoxin concentration in maize kernels. Our qPCR methodology could have a direct impact on breeding programs that aim to identify lines with resistance to aflatoxin accumulation, and set the stage for future studies on the genetic dissection of aflatoxin-related traits.

© 2009 The American Phytopathological Society