Diversity of aflatoxin-producing fungi and their impact on food safety in sub-Saharan Africa

C. Probst, R. Bandyopadhyay, P. J. Cotty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Citations (Scopus)


Crops frequently contaminated by aflatoxins are important sources of revenue and daily nourishment in many portions of sub-Saharan Africa. In recent years, reports have associated aflatoxins with diminished human health and export opportunities in many African Nations. Aflatoxins are highly carcinogenic metabolites mainly produced by members of Aspergillus sect. Flavi. The current study examined aflatoxin-producing fungi associated with maize grain intended for human consumption in 18 sub-Saharan African countries. 4469 Aspergillus sect. Flavi isolates were obtained from 339 samples. The majority (75%) of isolates belonged to the L strain morphotype of A. flavus. Minor percentages were A. tamarii (6%), A. parasiticus (1%), and isolates with S strain morphology (3%). No A. bombycis or A. nomius isolates were detected. Phylogenetic analyses of partial sequences of the nitrate reductase gene (niaD, 1.3kb) and the aflatoxin pathway transcription factor gene (aflR, 1.7kb) were used to verify isolate assignments into species and lineages. Phylogenetics resolved S strain isolates producing only B aflatoxins into two lineages fully supported by sizes of deletions in the gene region spanning the aflatoxin biosynthesis genes cypA (aflU) and norB (aflF). One lineage was the A. flavus S strain with either 0.9 or 1.5kb deletions. The second lineage, recently described from Kenya, has a 2.2kb deletion. Taxa with S strain morphology differed in distribution with strain SBG limited to West Africa and both A. minisclerotigenes and the new lineage from Kenya in Central and East Africa. African A. flavus L strain isolates formed a single clade with L strain isolates from other continents. The sampled maize frequently tested positive for aflatoxins (65%), fumonisins (81%), and deoxynivalenol (40%) indicating the presence of fungi capable of producing the respective toxins. Percentage of samples exceeding US limits for total aflatoxins (regulatory limit), fumonisins (advisory limit), and deoxynivalenol (advisory limit) were 47%, 49%, 4%, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-122
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Food Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2014


  • Aflatoxin
  • Africa
  • Aspergillus flavus
  • Food security
  • Maize
  • Mycotoxins
  • Humans
  • Food Safety
  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Zea mays/microbiology
  • Aspergillus/classification
  • Phylogeny
  • Genes, Fungal/genetics
  • Sequence Deletion/genetics
  • Food Microbiology
  • Aflatoxins/genetics
  • Base Sequence


Dive into the research topics of 'Diversity of aflatoxin-producing fungi and their impact on food safety in sub-Saharan Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this