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Aflatoxins are highly toxic carcinogens that contaminate crops worldwide. Previous studies conducted in Nigeria and Ghana found high concentrations of aflatoxins in pre- and post-harvest maize. However, little information is available on the population structure of Aspergillus Sect. Flavi in West Africa. We determined the incidence of Aspergillus Sect. Flavi and the level of aflatoxin contamination in 91 maize samples from farms and markets in Nigeria and Ghana. Aspergillus spp. were recovered from 61/91 maize samples and aflatoxins B1 and/or B2 occurred in 36/91 samples. Three samples from the farms also contained aflatoxin G1 and/or G2. Farm samples were more highly contaminated than were samples from the market, in terms of both the percentage of the samples contaminated and the level of mycotoxin contamination. One-hundred-and-thirty-five strains representative of the 1163 strains collected were identified by using a multilocus sequence analysis of portions of the genes encoding calmodulin, β-tubulin and actin, and evaluated for aflatoxin production. Of the 135 strains, there were 110 - Aspergillus flavus, 20 - Aspergillus tamarii, 2 - Aspergillus wentii, 2 - Aspergillus flavofurcatus, and 1 - Aspergillus parvisclerotigenus. Twenty-five of the A. flavus strains and the A. parvisclerotigenus strain were the only strains that produced aflatoxins. The higher contamination of the farm than the market samples suggests that the aflatoxin exposure of rural farmers is even higher than previously estimated based on reported contamination of market samples. The relative infrequency of the A. flavus SBG strains, producing small sclerotia and high levels of both aflatoxins (B and G), suggests that long-term chronic exposure to this mycotoxin are a much higher health risk in West Africa than is the acute toxicity due to very highly contaminated maize in east Africa.
PMID: 24750813 [PubMed - in process]