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Evaluation of resistance to aflatoxin contamination in kernels of maize genotypes using a GFP-expressing Aspergillus flavus strain

K. Rajasekaran, C.M. Sickler, R.L. Brown, J.W. Cary, D. Bhatnagar
World mycotoxin journal 2013 v.6 no.2 pp. 151-158
germplasm, germplasm evaluation, gene overexpression, pericarp, fluorescence, pedicel, transgenic plants, plant-incorporated protectants, corn, aflatoxins, antifungal proteins, rapid methods, aleurone layer, endosperm, genotype, biological resistance, fluorescence microscopy, Aspergillus flavus, fungi
Resistance or susceptibility of maize inbreds to infection by Aspergillus flavus was evaluated by the kernel screening assay. A green fluorescent protein-expressing strain of A. flavus was used to measure fungal spread and aflatoxin levels in real-time following fungal infection of kernels. Among the four inbreds tested, MI82 showed the most resistance and Ga209 the least. TZAR101 was also resistant to fungal infection, whereas Va35 was susceptible to fungal infection. However, Va35 produced lower aflatoxin levels compared to the susceptible line Ga209. Fluorescence microscopy indicated that the site of entry of the fungus into the kernel was consistently through the pedicel. Entry through the pericarp was never observed in undamaged kernels. In view of these results, incorporation or overexpression of antifungal proteins should be targeted to the pedicel and basal endosperm region in developing kernels. Once the fungus has entered through the pedicel, it spreads quickly through the open spaces between the pericarp and the aleurone layer, ultimately colonising the endosperm and scutellum and, finally, the embryo. A clear correlation was established between fungal fluorescence and aflatoxin levels. This method provides a quick, reliable means of evaluating resistance to A. flavus in undamaged kernels and provides breeders with a rapid method to evaluate maize germplasm.