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Impacts of environmental stress on growth, secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters and metabolite production of xerotolerant/xerophilic fungi

Medina, A.; Schmidt-Heydt, M.; Rodríguez, A.; Parra, R.; Geisen, R.; Magan, N.

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This paper examines the impact that single and interacting environmental stress factors have on tolerance mechanisms, molecular ecology and the relationship with secondary metabolite production by a group of mycotoxigenic species of economic importance. Growth of these fungi (Aspergillus flavus, A.ochraceus, A.carbonarius, Penicillium nordicum and P. verrucosum) is influenced by water and temperature interactions and type of solute used to induce water stress. Such abiotic stresses are overcome by the synthesis of increased amounts of low molecular weight sugar alcohols, especially glycerol and erythritol, to enable them to remain active under abiotic stress. This is accompanied by increased expression of sugar transporter genes, e.g., in A. flavus, which provides the nutritional means of tolerating such stress. The optimum conditions of water activity (a w ) × temperature stress for growth are often different from those for secondary metabolite production. The genes for toxin production are clustered together and their relative expression is influenced by abiotic interacting stress factors. For example., A. flavus synthesises aflatoxins under water stress in non-ionic solutes. In contrast, P. nordicum specifically occupies a high salt (0.87 a w  = 22 % NaCl) niche such as cured meats, and produces ochratoxin A (OTA). There is differential and temporal expression of the genes in the secondary metabolite clusters in response to a w  × temperature stress. We have used a microarray and integrated data on growth, relative expression of key genes in the biosynthetic pathways for secondary metabolite production and toxin production using a mixed growth model. This was used to correlate these factors and predict the toxin levels produced under different abiotic stress conditions. This system approach to integrate these different data sets and model the relationships could be a powerful tool for predicting the relative toxin production under extreme stress conditions, including climate change scenarios. This approach will facilitate a better functional understanding of the influence that environmental stress has on these mycotoxigenic fungi and enable better prevention strategies to be developed based on this system-based approach. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Automatic Tags

Stress; Water; Gene clusters; Gene function; Modelling; Mycotoxins; Systems biology; Temperature

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