Research – Influence of Light and Water Activity on Growth and Mycotoxin Formation of Selected Isolates of Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus

MDPI

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Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus are the main causes of aflatoxin contamination in various foods, particularly grains, as they can thrive in environments with lower water activity and higher temperatures. The growth of Aspergillus and the formation of the mycotoxins aflatoxin and cyclopiazonic acid are strongly influenced by environmental stimuli and can be reduced by modulating parameters such as water activity, pH, temperature and light during the storage. This study has two objectives—on the one hand, to assess how global warming and an increase in exposure to sunlight affect growth and mycotoxin formation, and on the other hand, how the findings from these experiments can be used to reduce fungal growth and mycotoxin formation in stored foods. Using growth substrates with two different water activities (aw 0.95, aw 0.98), together with a light incubation device consisting of different chambers equipped with diodes emitting visible light of five different wavelengths (455 nm, 470 nm, 530 nm, 590 nm, 627 nm) plus white light, we analyzed the growth and mycotoxin formation of selected Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus isolates. It was shown that light with a wavelength of 455/470 nm alone, but especially in combination with a lower water activity of aw 0.95, leads to a significant reduction in growth and mycotoxin formation, which was accompanied by reduced transcriptional activity of the responsible mycotoxin biosynthetic genes. Therefore, these results can be used to significantly reduce the growth and the mycotoxin formation of the analyzed fungi during storage and to estimate the trend of fungal infestation by Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus in water activity- and light exposure-equivalent climate change scenarios. Mycotoxin-producing aspergilli can be effective and sustainably inhibited using a combination of short-wave light and lowered water activity in the substrate. A higher annual mean temperature accompanying climate change may lead to an increased spread of aflatoxin-producing fungi in areas that were previously too cold for them. On the other hand, there will be regions in the world where contamination with aflatoxin-producing fungi will be reduced due to increased drought and sun exposure.

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