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Localization, morphology and transcriptional profile of Aspergillus flavus during seed colonization

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Summary

Aspergillus flavus is an opportunistic fungal pathogen that infects maize kernels pre-harvest, creating major human health concerns and causing substantial agricultural losses. Improved control strategies are needed, yet progress is hampered by the limited understanding of the mechanisms of infection. A series of studies were designed to investigate the localization, morphology and transcriptional profile of A. flavus during internal seed colonization. Results from these studies indicate that A. flavus is capable of infecting all tissues of the immature kernel by 96 h after infection. Mycelia were observed in and around the point of inoculation in the endosperm and were found growing down to the germ. At the endosperm–germ interface, hyphae appeared to differentiate and form a biofilm-like structure that surrounded the germ. The exact nature of this structure remains unclear, but is discussed. A custom-designed A. flavus Affymetrix GeneChip® microarray was used to monitor genome-wide transcription during pathogenicity. A total of 5061 genes were designated as being differentially expressed. Genes encoding secreted enzymes, transcription factors and secondary metabolite gene clusters were up-regulated and considered to be potential effector molecules responsible for disease in the kernel. Information gained from this study will aid in the development of strategies aimed at preventing or slowing down A. flavus colonization of the maize kernel.

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