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Genetic Diversity of Fungi Producing Mycotoxins in Stored Crops.


Mycotoxins are secondary metabolic products (SM) produced by some fungi which are genetically capable of producing toxins when they have adequate environmental and nutritional conditions. The fungal toxins are the most potent known toxins that cause severe diseases with small concentrations of less than 10 ppm. This potency is due to the fungal toxins are heat resistant to the extent that they cannot be destroyed by conventional heat treatments used in manufacturing and cooking. The second reason is that they spread quickly from fungus colonies to food. Therefore, removing the fungal parts of food, as many people do, does not lead to the complete elimination of the fungal toxins produced in these foods and therefore the growth of fungus on these foods should be avoided (1,2).

The most important toxins are produced by Aspergillus, Fusarium, Penicillium, and Alternaria. One fungus may produce more than one poison, and currently, there are more than 200 known types of fungal toxins that cause health risks to humans and animals. The most common toxins are Aflatoxins, Ochratoxins, Fumonisins, Trichothecene, Patulin, Rubratoxin, Citrinin and Zearalenone. The effect of these toxins does not appear quickly, but has a cumulative effect that appears after 10-20 years of eating contaminated food. The other problem is that it does not stimulate the immune system in the body to be detected and have no drug treatments to reduce the impact and thus constitute a health disaster in the world (3). Aflatoxins, a group of about 20 metabolic compounds, are the most important fungal toxins. Aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2 are usually found in foods and are present in a wide range of food commodities including cereals, nuts, spices, figs, and dried fruits (4).

The diagnosis of toxin-producing fungus was based on phenotypic characteristics and microscopic structure such as colony color, shape, pigmentation, as well as reproductive traits such as spores, type and shape, and size of produced stone bodies (5,6). However, these characteristics are unstable and can change under environmental conditions, as well as require considerable effort and time. The recently tended emergence of heterozygous strains within the same type drive the scientists to rely on the molecular diagnosis, which is based on Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to give results and delicate accuracy in diagnosis (7). The most important feature of the PCR-RAPD technique; it is a fast, low-cost and straightforward technique. The main disadvantages are the amplification process which either occurs or does not occur due to technical randomization. In addition, it reveals the presence of sovereignty and results in non-replicable (8-10). The results of the PCR-RAPD analysis of a sample cannot be compared with the same conditions in two laboratories 11. Ribosomal DNA is amplified to determine the taxonomic characteristics and relationship of evolution between fungi. The DNA sequence is often used to study taxonomic and developmental studies because they exist in living cells with important functions and therefore their evolution may be reflected in the evolution of the whole genome (12). This review article aims to review the current status of genetically diverse of mycotoxigenic fungi in various contaminated food.

Prevalence and Frequency of Fungi Producing Toxins

Cereals and products stored as oil crops accompany many microorganisms such as fungi, yeast, and bacteria. These microorganisms multiply when the conditions for their growth are suitable causing damage to stored materials. In turn, it causes a reduction in the quality and chemical changes in the product 13. Fungi play a particularly dangerous role during storage operations compared to other microorganisms. The toxins produced by these fungi have significant economic effects in many agricultural crops, especially wheat, maize, field pistachios, nuts, cotton seeds, and tea. Twenty-five percent of the world's crop production is contaminated with fungal compounds (14).

In general, toxins reach the food of humans and animals through the contamination of food with fungi which produce these toxins (the process of the formation of toxins and their secretion depends on the type of fungi and the nature of the food and the availability of appropriate environmental conditions). The nutrient encourages the growth of the fungus either during the different stages of production or transportation or storage period. The most important species responsible for the secretion of more than two-thirds of Mycotoxins are Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium (15). The presence and spread of these toxic fungi were confirmed by isolating them from these agricultural products. Table (1) summarized the results of prevalence and frequency of mycotoxin fungi that isolated from different crops from previous studies.

Studies have elucidated the isolation of different types of fungi with different propagation percentages, where the most toxic fungi produced in grain and seed crops are Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium, which produce SM of high risk to human and animal health. Most of these dangerous toxins are Aflatoxins.

In terms of relative dominance of species, Aspergillus was found to be the most frequent and widespread fungus (16-20,23). The reason is that this fungus can form large numbers of breeding units that are resistant to inappropriate environmental conditions, which form plankton in the air and thus reach many places. As well as their growth in wide ranges of heat and humidity conditions, as some species of Aspergillus grow at temperatures ranging from 5 to 45[degrees]C.

According to the above-mentioned studies (16,18,19,22), frequency and sovereignty indicators illustrate that some species in the environment have been confirmed and replicated, such as Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium, despite the different environmental conditions of each study. This evidence shows the extent of these species of fungi to tolerate the various environmental changes. Also, it shows their physiological activity, rapid growth, producing large numbers of reproductive units, and enzymatic and toxic activity compared to other species.

The Concentration of Mycotoxins in Crops

SM products of fungi are biologically active compounds. They are non-antigenic toxins and most of them are toxic to humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms (24). Mycotoxic fungi divided into three groups; field fungus, storage fungus, advanced decomposition fungi. Mycotoxins, in turn, classified according to their secretion time. Direct pollution for the Mycotoxins secreted during the stages of production and circulation of food. Whereas, the indirect pollution that results of contamination of food by feeding humans on animal products produced from animals that have been fed on contaminated food with fungal toxins and this type is the most dangerous (25). Table 2 shows the concentration of toxins (by ppb) according to the different crops samples.

Fungi varied in the production of fungal toxins and the variation in proportions was attributed to the genetic ability of different fungal isolates as shown in many studies (22,28,32,34).

The findings of the chemical analysis of fungal isolates from many crop types using different techniques showed various types of fungal toxins which produced in different proportions (29,31,33,35). The difference in toxin production is due to the ability to produce toxins according to the genetic diversity of the fungal isolates. Aflatoxin is the most frequently reported Mycotoxin (26,30,37). Aflatoxin is produced in the poor stored agricultural products especially in the tropics and sub-tropical regions where the appropriate climatic conditions as high temperature and humidity. These conditions allow the growth of a broad spectrum of fungal species on the water agricultural thoroughbred especially species producing these toxins (38).

The concentration of toxins may also be attributed to the techniques used to estimate the quantity of toxin such as the HPLC / HPTLC techniques that don't estimate toxin values. Also, some works have shown a conclusion that, their tests cannot be appropriate to estimate the amount of all toxins (26). Alternatively, the number of genes may be related to the amount of toxin, and the method of estimate the toxin can affect the amount of poison 39. Previous study also showed that the rate of production of toxins on oilseeds crops (exceeding 300 ppb) was more than the production it on grain (22).

Although different conditions and areas of studies have been conducted, most have confirmed that Aspergillus strains can proliferate rapidly on nutrients such as peanuts and some other species with high moisture content 40. Fungi do not grow evenly on all nutrients. Different species of the same type of food differ in their susceptibility to fungi and the production of Mycotoxins (41,42). The increase in the production of Mycotoxins in oilseeds is expected to be due to the internal structure of seeds, and moisture content within it. In addition to the conditions of humidity and temperature in the storage field (43).

On the other hand, some studies have shown high concentration rates for the production of fungus growing on cereals indicating that the toxicity of Mycotoxins due to the storage of such types of crops at very high humidity limits 43-45. At these levels of moisture are considered dangerous. Thus, the safe storage limits for the grain will depend on the initial or primary content of the moisture.

Genetic Diversity

Since the initial reports of DNA amplification using PCR, the number of different applications of this technique has increased dramatically. One of the first applications of the PCR in 1990 was described by White and his coworker and dealt with the amplification and direct sequencing of ribosomal DNA (rDNA) to establish taxonomic and formative relationships between fungi (46). The emergence of PCR has allowed the development of reliable molecular markers for the detection and differentiation of fungi, both at the species and strain level. Extensive applications have been found in the science of mycology including classification, plant composition, and diagnosis. PCR detection of pathogenic fungi has been reported for numerous vital genes such as Phytophtora sp., Fusarium sp., and Colletotrichum sp (47). DNA-based PCR techniques are specific, sensitive and fast compared to many other detection methods. There is a wealth of methodologies for detecting microorganisms, including traditional quantification of fruiting structures, disease symptom record, and biochemical and microbiological methods. Recently, PCR techniques have gained remarkable popularity in diagnosis, due to sensitivity, quality, and ease of implementation (48).

Table 3 showed the different genes responsible for the production of Mycotoxins from different fungal isolates from different crop types. This genetic diversity or genetic variation may be due to the effects of climate, various environmental factors, storage conditions, pollution, the effect of certain chemicals and the biological composition of the seed, or the PCR pattern that may be affected by several factors (20,51).

Genetic variation may also be attributed to the method of breeding fungi or the way of coexistence with fungi and other organisms (20,52). Some studies have indicated that there is a lack of toxic genes in some isolates (20). This could be due to the inability of the isolate to produce the fungal toxins, the environmental conditions (such as the storage medium), or to inhibition of the PCR reaction by cell wall components during the process of reaction 53. However, the use of ways based on PCR-targeted methods for DNA is an excellent choice and quick option to diagnose fungi because they are highly specialized, sensitive and better than other techniques.


Genetic diversity was observed between the mycotoxigenic fungi, and various genes are responsible especially avfA, omtA, and omtB for the production of fungal toxins. One of the most toxic fungi is Aspergillus, and Aflatoxin was most common Mycotoxin produced by this fungus. We recommend for studies that determine the role of each Mycotoxic gene/loci responsible for Mycotoxin production. 10.22207/JPAM.12.4.15


Many thanks are addressed to the Management and Science University (MSU) as this paper is a part of the project funded by the University Seed Grant Number: SG-376-0216-IMS. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


The authors have declared that no conflict of interest exists.


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Fuzia Elfituri Muftah Eltariki [1], Kartikeya Tiwari [2], Indang Ariati Ariffin [2] and Mohammed Abdelfatah Alhoot [2] *

[1] Post Graduate Centre (PGC), Management & Science University (MSU), Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.

[2] International Medical School (IMS), Management & Science University (MSU), Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.

* Correspondence:; Tel.: +603 5510 6868; Medical Microbiology Unit, International Medical School (IMS), Management & Science University (MSU), University Drive, Off Persiaran Olahraga, Seksyen 13, Shah Alam, 40100, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia.

(Received: 06 October 2018; accepted: 30 November 2018)
Table 1. Prevalence and frequency of Mycotoxigenic fungi isolated from
different types of crop

Type of fungi              Samples                 Place of samples
                           (crops)                 collection

Aspergillus fla            Corn                    Malaysia
Aspergillus niger
Fusarium verticillioides
Penicillium sp
Aspergillus fla            Zea maize               Saudi Arabia
Aspergillus niger          Cereal                  Morocco
Aspergillus flavus         (wheat, rice, coffee)
Penicillium sp.
Fusarium sp.
Aspergillus sp.            Grains (cereal)         Libya
Penicillium sp.            Legumes
Fusarium sp.
Rhizopus stolonifer
Mucor piriformis
Alternaria tunuissima
Rhizoctonia solani
Pythium ultimum
Phyllactinia rigida
Sccharomyces cerevisiae
Aspergillus flavus         Wheat                   Iraq
Aspergillus niger          Zea mays
Aspergillus ochraceus
Alternaria alternata
Fusarium oxysporum
Rizopus stolonifer
Curvilaria lunata
A. niger                   coffee beans            Brazil
A.flavus Cladosporium
F. incarnatum              Adlay seeds             Korea
F. kyushuense
F. fujikuroi
F. concentricum
F. asiaticum
F. graminearum
F. miscanthi
F. polyph/alidicum
F. armeniacum
F. thapsinum
Fusarium sp.               Adlay seeds             Korea

Type of fungi              Prevalence   Frequency   Reference
                               %            %

Aspergillus fla                87          99
Aspergillus niger              83          95
Fusarium verticillioides       47          51
Penicillium sp                 5           3.1
Aspergillus fla                53         11.4        (17)
Aspergillus niger              --         14.10       (18)
Aspergillus flavus             --          11
Penicillium sp.                --         24.33
Fusarium sp.                   --           1
Aspergillus sp.             11.7-45                   (19)
Penicillium sp.             6-71.17
Fusarium sp.
Rhizopus stolonifer
Mucor piriformis
Alternaria tunuissima
Rhizoctonia solani
Pythium ultimum
Phyllactinia rigida
Sccharomyces cerevisiae
Aspergillus flavus                        24.70       (20)
Aspergillus niger                         33.2
Aspergillus ochraceus                     4.41
Alternaria alternata                      12.53
Fusarium oxysporum                        9.97
Rizopus stolonifer                        7.70
Curvilaria lunata                         1.85
A. niger                      83.3                    (21)
A.ochraceus                   53.3
A.flavus Cladosporium       25.016.6
Penicillium                   10.0
F. incarnatum                11.67                    (22)
F. kyushuense                10.33
F. fujikuroi                  8.67
F. concentricum               6.00
F. asiaticum                  5.67
F. graminearum                1.67
F. miscanthi                  0.67
F. polyph/alidicum            0.33
F. armeniacum                 0.33
F. thapsinum                  0.33
Fusarium sp.                  45.6                    (22)
Phoma                        17.33
Alternaria                    8.33
Cladosporium                  7.00
Curvularia                    1.00
Cochliobolus                  0.67
Leptosphaerulina               33

Table 2. The concentration of Mycotoxins in different types of crops

Crops                Name of toxin              Concentration
                                                of toxins (ppb)

Corn, Rice, Nut      AFB1                       100
                     OTA                        10-100
Corn                 Fumonisin                  261-288
                     AFB1                       3-49
Zea maize            AFB1                       10
                     AFB2                       6
Wheat                DON                        82.5
                     ZEN                        36.7
                     T-2                        77.5
                     AFB1                       2.04
                     AFB2                       2.07
Cereal (grains)      FB1                        17.3
                     FB2                        14.6
                     DON                        41.5
                     NIV                        50.2
                     ZEN                        6.1
Yellow rice          CitreoviridinAFT1          5.9
Nuts, Dried fruits   Aflatoxins                 4-14.5
Peanut               Aflatoxins                 30-851.9
                     Zearalenone                35.1-129.4
Peanut               Met-cycladextrin           20
Nuts                 Aflatoxins (B1-B2-G1-G2)   70-140
Peanut               Aflatoxins (B1-B2-G1-G2)   5-103.8
Peanut               Aflatoxin B1               6.83
Nuts                 Aflatoxins                 1-113
Wheat, Zea mays      OTA                        35
Adlay seeds          FUM                        4.52-9.9
                     ZEN                        161.85-398.94

Crops                Name of toxin              Estimation   Reference

Corn, Rice, Nut      AFB1                       HPLCHPTLC      (26)
Corn                 Fumonisin                  ELISA          (16)
Zea maize            AFB1                       HPLC           (17)
Wheat                DON                        LC/MS/MS       (27)
Cereal (grains)      FB1                        LC/MS/MS       (28)
Yellow rice          CitreoviridinAFT1          LC/MS/MS       (29)
Nuts, Dried fruits   Aflatoxins                 LC             (30)
Peanut               Aflatoxins                 TLC            (31)
Peanut               Met-cycladextrin           TLC            (32)
Nuts                 Aflatoxins (B1-B2-G1-G2)   IACHPLC        (33)
Peanut               Aflatoxins (B1-B2-G1-G2)   HPLC           (34)
Peanut               Aflatoxin B1               ELISA          (35)
Nuts                 Aflatoxins                 TLC            (36)
Wheat, Zea mays      OTA                        TLC            (20)
Adlay seeds          FUM                        ELISA          (22)

Table 3. Genes responsible for producing mycotoxins by
different fungal isolates from varies crop types

Type of fungi                         Crops

Aspergillus flavus                    --
Aspergillus flavus                    --
Aspergillus flavus                    Soybeen

Aspergillus niger                     Corn, Rice, Nut
Aspergillus flavus
Aspergillus fumigatus
Aspergillus carbonarius
Aspergillus tobingensis               Wheat
Fusarium sporotrichioides
Penicillium expansum
Fusarium graminearuium MTCC 2089      Rice, Finger millet
Fusarium graminearuium ITCC 1805
Fusarium graminearuium MTCC 1893
Fusarium graminearuium MTCC 1894
Fusarium sporotrichioides MTCC 2081
Fusarium solani ITCC 3359
Fusarium culmorum ITCC 149
Fusarium moniliform MTCC 156
Fusarium moniliform ITCC 3362
Fusarium moniliform NCIM 1099
Fusarium proliferatum MTCC 286
Fusarium proliferatum NCIM 1101
Colletotrichum sp.                    Legume crops

Aspergillus flavus                    Wheat, Zea mays
Aspergillus niger
Aspergillus ochraceus
Alternaria alternata
Fusarium oxysporum
Rizopus stolonifer
Curvilaria lunata

Type of fungi                         Genes              Reference
                                      responsible for
                                      toxin production

Aspergillus flavus                    avfA               (49)
Aspergillus flavus                    omtB
Aspergillus flavus                    omtB               (39)
Aspergillus niger                     Nor-1              (26)
Aspergillus flavus                    ontA
Aspergillus fumigatus                 Pks
Aspergillus carbonarius
Aspergillus tobingensis               caM                (27)
Fusarium sporotrichioides             Tir13
Penicillium expansum                  IDH
Fusarium graminearuium MTCC 2089      rDNA-tri5-tri6     (50)
Fusarium graminearuium ITCC 1805
Fusarium graminearuium MTCC 1893
Fusarium graminearuium MTCC 1894
Fusarium sporotrichioides MTCC 2081
Fusarium solani ITCC 3359             rDNA
Fusarium culmorum ITCC 149
Fusarium moniliform MTCC 156          rDNA-fum1-Fum13
Fusarium moniliform ITCC 3362
Fusarium moniliform NCIM 1099
Fusarium proliferatum MTCC 286
Fusarium proliferatum NCIM 1101
Colletotrichum sp.                    ITS                (48)
Aspergillus flavus                    PKS                (20)
Aspergillus niger
Aspergillus ochraceus
Alternaria alternata
Fusarium oxysporum
Rizopus stolonifer
Curvilaria lunata
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Author:Eltariki, Fuzia Elfituri Muftah; Tiwari, Kartikeya; Ariffin, Indang Ariati; Alhoot, Mohammed Abdelfa
Publication:Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology
Article Type:Report
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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