Aflatoxin biosynthesis gene clusters and flanking regions


Kenneth Ehrlich, USDA, ARS, SRRC, 1100 RE Lee Blvd, PO Box 19687, New Orleans, LA 70179, USA (e-mail:


Aims:  To compare the biosynthetic gene cluster sequences of the main aflatoxin (AF)-producing Aspergillus species.

Methods and Results:  Sequencing was on fosmid clones selected by homology to Aspergillus parasiticus sequence. Alignments revealed that gene order is conserved among AF gene clusters of Aspergillus nomius, A. parasiticus, two sclerotial morphotypes of Aspergillus flavus, and an unnamed Aspergillus sp. Phylogenetic relationships were established using the maximum likelihood method implemented in PAUP. Based on the Eurotiomycete/Sordariomycete divergence time, the A. flavus-type cluster has been maintained for at least 25 million years. Such conservation of the genes and gene order reflects strong selective constraints on rearrangement. Phylogenetic comparison of individual genes in the cluster indicated that ver-1, which has homology to a melanin biosynthesis gene, experienced selective forces distinct from the other pathway genes. Sequences upstream of the polyketide synthase-encoding gene vary among the species, but a four-gene sugar utilization cluster at the distal end is conserved, indicating a functional relationship between the two adjacent clusters.

Conclusions:  The high conservation of cluster components needed for AF production suggests there is an adaptive value for AFs in character-shaping niches important to those taxa.

Significance and Impact of the Study:  This is the first comparison of the complete nucleotide sequences of gene clusters harbouring the AF biosynthesis genes of the main AF-producing species. Such a comparison will aid in understanding how AF biosynthesis is regulated in experimental and natural environments.