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Fungal Genet Biol. 2014 Mar;64:25-35. doi: 10.1016/j.fgb.2014.01.001. Epub 2014 Jan 9.

Functional characterization of a veA-dependent polyketide synthase gene in Aspergillus flavus necessary for the synthesis of asparasone, a sclerotium-specific pigment.

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Food and Feed Safety Research Unit, USDA/ARS, Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, LA 70124, USA. Electronic address:
Food and Feed Safety Research Unit, USDA/ARS, Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, LA 70124, USA.
Laboratory of Food Analysis, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ghent University, Harelbekestraat 72, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.
Crop Bioprotection Research Unit, USDA/ARS, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, IL 61604, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, USA.


The filamentous fungus, Aspergillus flavus, produces the toxic and carcinogenic, polyketide synthase (PKS)-derived family of secondary metabolites termed aflatoxins. While analysis of the A. flavus genome has identified many other PKSs capable of producing secondary metabolites, to date, only a few other metabolites have been identified. In the process of studying how the developmental regulator, VeA, affects A. flavus secondary metabolism we discovered that mutation of veA caused a dramatic down-regulation of transcription of a polyketide synthase gene belonging to cluster 27 and the loss of the ability of the fungi to produce sclerotia. Inactivation of the cluster 27 pks (pks27) resulted in formation of greyish-yellow sclerotia rather than the dark brown sclerotia normally produced by A. flavus while conidial pigmentation was unaffected. One metabolite produced by Pks27 was identified by thin layer chromatography and mass spectral analysis as the known anthraquinone, asparasone A. Sclerotia produced by pks27 mutants were significantly less resistant to insect predation than were the sclerotia produced by the wild-type and more susceptible to the deleterious effects of ultraviolet light and heat. Normal sclerotia were previously thought to be resistant to damage because of a process of melanization similar to that known for pigmentation of conidia. Our results show that the dark brown pigments in sclerotia derive from anthraquinones produced by Pks27 rather than from the typical tetrahydronapthalene melanin production pathway. To our knowledge this is the first report on the genes involved in the biosynthesis of pigments important for sclerotial survival.


Asparasone; Aspergillus flavus; Pigment; Sclerotium; Secondary metabolism; VeA

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