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Int J Food Microbiol. 2007 Feb 15;113(3):330-8. Epub 2006 Nov 7.

Studies on Aspergillus section Flavi isolated from maize in northern Italy.

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1
Istituto di Entomologia e Patologia Vegetale, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Via E. Parmense 84, 29100 Piacenza, Italy.

Abstract

In 2003, for the first time in Italy, significant problems arose with colonization and contamination of maize destined for animal feed with Aspergillus section Flavi and aflatoxins (AFs). This resulted in milk and derived products being contaminated with AFM(1) at levels above the legislative limit. There was little knowledge and experience of this problem in Italy. The objectives of this research were thus to study the populations of Aspergillus section Flavi in six northern Italian regions and obtain information on the relative role of the key species, ability to produce sclerotia, production of the main toxic secondary metabolites, aflatoxins and cyclopiazonic acid, and tolerance of key environmental parameters. A total of 70 strains were isolated and they included the toxigenic species A. flavus and A. parasiticus. A. flavus was dominant in the populations studied, representing 93% of the strains. Seventy percent of strains of Aspergillus section Flavi produced AFs, with 50% of strains also producing cyclopiazonic acid. Sixty-two percent of A. flavus strains and 80% of A. parasiticus were able to produce sclerotia at 30 degrees C. Using 5/2 agar, only 1 strain developed S sclerotia and 19 L sclerotia. With regard to ecological studies, growth of Aspergillus section Flavi was optimal at between 25 and 30 degrees C, while AFB(1) production was optimal at 25 degrees C. Regarding water availability (water activity, a(w)), 0.99 a(w) was optimal for both growth and AFs production, while the only aflatoxin produced in the driest condition tested (0.83 a(w)) was AFB(1). This information will be very useful in identifying regions at risk in northern Italy by linking climatic regional information to levels of fungal contamination present and potential for aflatoxin production in maize destined for animal feed. This would be beneficial as part of a prevention strategy for minimising AFs in this product.

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