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Characterization of Aspergillus section Flavi : molecular markers as tools to unmask cryptic species

Abstract : Some fungi, mostly Ascomycota, are able to synthesize secondary metabolites that are toxic to humans and vertebrates, called mycotoxins. Since the presence of these fungi in staples represents a potential risk to human and livestock health, staples are eliminated when they are contaminated. The section Flavi is one most important group of fungi from an economic and public health point of view because it comprises several mycotoxin producer species. Amongst the mycotoxins produced by this group are aflatoxins (AFs), considered a main concern because of their deleterious effects on humans and vertebrates. Species from section Flavi grow mainly in tropical and subtropical regions where environmental conditions are optimal, and harvest and storage conditions are not always appropriate to avoid production of mycotoxins, which enhance their growth. In temperate regions, these species are less frequent; however, climate changes can favor their colonization. Species identification in Aspergillus section Flavi is challenging because of inter- and intra- variability of traits. Therefore, the use of one identification method (morphological, molecular or secondary metabolite profile characterization) is futile. Conversely, the development of molecular tools has facilitated the task. The aim of this study was to screen the species relationships in Aspergillus section Flavi based on different molecular markers (ITS, benA, cmdA, amdS, preA, preB, ppgA, aflP, Mat1 genes), and subsequently identify which ones allow a fine species classification in the section Flavi by phylogenetic inference. The use of phylogenetic inference in the present study showed that it is a robust approach to identify Aspergillus section Flavi species. The use of this technique confirmed some of the hypotheses proposed in the Flavi section, since more genetic information was added, thus strengthening the placement of the species in the Flavi section. In addition, we described a new cryptic species in this section Aspergillus korhogoensis that is nested in A. flavus clade as the sister taxon of A. parvisclerotigenus. Likewise, the molecular markers (benA, cmdA, mcm7, rpb1, preB, preA or ppgA) were good candidates for studying other sections in Aspergillus. The use of phylogenetic inference is a good method for fine-scale species identification; however, it should be used carefully, and the morphological approach and characterization of secondary metabolites should also be carried out. Based on our results, concatenated matrices are recommended to perform phylogenetic inference in this section, and the best combination includes benA, cmdA, and the inclusion of at least one another gene (preB, mcm7, rpb1, preA or ppgA). Conversely, the use of ITS in Aspergillus may lead to an underestimation of the diversity because the gene is highly conserved. Studying mating type MAT1 loci in the section is helpful to increase the knowledge of sexual reproduction in ascomycetes. In addition, several functions of fungal biological machinery are linked to Mat1 loci genes. Secondary metabolic profile characterization of Aspergillus section Flavi strains should be performed, not only as an identification tool, but also to discriminate toxinogenic and atoxinogenic strains. Section Flavi encloses species able to produce a mixture of mycotoxins and beneficial compounds. Amongst mycotoxins that should be screened are AFs, cyclopiazonic acid, A and B versicolorin, sterigmatocystin, tenuazonic acid. An exhaustive study of the secondary metabolism can also be useful to investigate novel beneficial products.
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Amaranta Carvajal Campos. Characterization of Aspergillus section Flavi : molecular markers as tools to unmask cryptic species. Toxicology. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018TOU30036⟩. ⟨tel-02073580⟩

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