Aflatoxins are extremely potent carcinogens produced by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Cloning of genes in the aflatoxin pathway provides a specific approach to understanding the regulation of aflatoxin biosynthesis and, subsequently, to the control of aflatoxin contamination of food and feed. This paper reports the isolation of a gene involved in aflatoxin biosynthesis by complementation of an aflatoxin-nonproducing mutant with a wild-type genomic cosmid library of A. flavus. Strain 650-33, blocked in aflatoxin biosynthesis at the afl-2 allele, was complemented by a 32-kb cosmid clone (B9), resulting in the production of aflatoxin. The onset and profile of aflatoxin accumulation was similar for the transformed strain and the wild-type strain (NRRL 3357) of the fungus, indicating that the integrated gene is under the same control as in wild-type strains. Complementation analyses with DNA fragments from B9 indicated that the gene resides within a 2.2-kb fragment. Because this gene complements the mutated afl-2 allele, it was designated afl-2. Genetic evidence obtained from a double mutant showed that afl-2 is involved in aflatoxin biosynthesis before the formation of norsolorinic acid, the first stable intermediate identified in the pathway. Further, metabolite feeding studies with the mutant, transformed, and wild-type cultures and enzymatic activity measurements in cell extracts of these cultures suggest that afl-2 regulates gene expression or the activity of other aflatoxin pathway enzymes. This is the first reported isolation of a gene for aflatoxin biosynthesis in A. flavus.
Aflatoxins are a family of toxic, acetate-derived decaketides that arise biosynthetically through polyhydroxyanthraquinone intermediates. Most studies have assumed that aflatoxin B1 is the biosynthetic precursor of the other aflatoxins. We used a strain of Aspergillus flavus which accumulates aflatoxin B2 to investigate the later stages of aflatoxin biosynthesis. This strain produced aflatoxins B2 and M2 but no detectable aflatoxin B1 when grown over 12 days in a low-salt, defined growth medium containing asparagine. Addition of dichlorvos to this growth medium inhibited aflatoxin production with concomitant accumulation of versiconal hemiacetal acetate. When mycelial pellets were grown for 24, 48, and 72 h in growth medium and then transferred to a replacement medium, only aflatoxin B2 and M2 were recovered after 96 h of incubation. Addition of sterigmatocystin to the replacement medium led to the recovery of higher levels of aflatoxins B2 and M2 than were detected in control cultures, as well as to the formation of aflatoxins B1 and M1 and O-methylsterigmatocystin. These results support the hypothesis that aflatoxins B1 and B2 can arise independently via a branched pathway.
An unusual mutation at the afl-1 locus, affecting aflatoxin biosynthesis in Aspergillus flavus 649, was investigated. The inability of strain 649 to produce aflatoxin was found to be the result of a large (greater than 60 kb) deletion that included a cluster of aflatoxin biosynthesis genes. Diploids formed by parasexual crosses between strain 649 and the aflatoxigenic strain 86 did not produce aflatoxin, indicating the dominant nature of the afl-1 mutation in strain 649. In metabolite feeding experiments, the diploids did not convert three intermediates in the aflatoxin pathway to aflatoxin. Northern (RNA blot) analysis of the diploids grown in medium conducive for aflatoxin production indicated that the aflatoxin pathway genes nor1, ver1, and omt1 were not expressed; however, there was low-level expression of the regulatory gene aflR. Pulsed-field electrophoresis gels indicated a larger (6 Mb) chromosome in strain 649 than the apparently homologous (4.9 Mb) chromosome in strain 86. The larger chromosome in strain 649 suggests that a rearrangement occurred in addition to the deletion. From these data, we proposed that a trans-sensing mechanism in diploids is responsible for the dominant phenotype associated with the afl-1 locus in strain 649. Such a mechanism is known in Drosophila melanogaster but has not been described for fungi.
Tolnaftate [2-napthyl-N-methyl-N-(m-tolyl)thionocarbamate], an antifungal drug, is widely used to control superficial fungal infections in humans and other animals. In this study the effect of tolnaftate on aflatoxin biosynthesis by Aspergillus parasiticus NRRL 3240 was investigated. Tolnaftate changed the morphology of A. parasiticus to yeastlike forms and inhibited aflatoxin formation. The formation of aflatoxin G was blocked considerably, indicating a metabolic block in the conversion of aflatoxin B to aflatoxin G. The incorporation of [1-14C]acetate into aflatoxin was significantly inhibited at a concentration of 1 mM tolnaftate. The presence of zinc in the resuspension buffer resulted in reversal of the tolnaftate-induced inhibition of aflatoxin G1 biosynthesis.
Aspergillus parasiticus is one primary source of aflatoxin contamination in economically important crops. To prevent the potential health and economic impacts of aflatoxin contamination, our goal is to develop practical strategies to reduce aflatoxin synthesis on susceptible crops. One focus is to identify biological and environmental factors that regulate aflatoxin synthesis and to manipulate these factors to control aflatoxin biosynthesis in the field or during crop storage. In the current study, we analyzed the effects of aspergillus volatiles on growth, development, aflatoxin biosynthesis, and promoter activity in the filamentous fungus A. parasiticus. When colonies of Aspergillus nidulans and A. parasiticus were incubated in the same growth chamber, we observed a significant reduction in aflatoxin synthesis and asexual sporulation by A. parasiticus. Analysis of the headspace gases demonstrated that A. nidulans produced much larger quantities of 2-buten-1-ol (CA) and 2-ethyl-1-hexanol (EH) than A. parasiticus. In its pure form, EH inhibited growth and increased aflatoxin accumulation in A. parasiticus at all doses tested; EH also stimulated aflatoxin transcript accumulation. In contrast, CA exerted dose-dependent up-regulatory or down-regulatory effects on aflatoxin accumulation, conidiation, and aflatoxin transcript accumulation. Experiments with reporter strains carrying nor-1 promoter deletions and mutations suggested that the differential effects of CA were mediated through separate regulatory regions in the nor-1 promoter. The potential efficacy of CA as a tool for analysis of transcriptional regulation of aflatoxin biosynthesis is discussed. We also identify a novel, rapid, and reliable method to assess norsolorinic acid accumulation in solid culture using a Chroma Meter CR-300 apparatus.
The pathway oxoaverantin (OAVN) → averufin (AVR) → hydroxyversicolorone (HVN) → versiconal hemiacetal acetate (VHA) is involved in aflatoxin biosynthesis, and the cypX and moxY genes, which are present in the aflatoxin gene cluster, have been previously suggested to be involved in this pathway. To clarify the function of these two genes in more detail, we disrupted the genes in aflatoxigenic Aspergillus parasiticus NRRL 2999. The cypX-deleted mutant lost aflatoxin productivity and accumulated AVR in the mycelia. Although this mutant converted HVN, versicolorone (VONE), VHA, and versiconol acetate (VOAc) to aflatoxins in feeding experiments, it could not produce aflatoxins from either OAVN or AVR. The moxY-deleted mutant also lost aflatoxin productivity, whereas it newly accumulated HVN and VONE. In feeding experiments, this mutant converted either VHA or VOAc to aflatoxins but did not convert OAVN, AVR, HVN, or VONE to aflatoxins. These results demonstrated that cypX encodes AVR monooxygenase, catalyzing the reaction from AVR to HVN, and moxY encodes HVN monooxygenase, catalyzing a Baeyer-Villiger reaction from HVN to VHA as well as from VONE to VOAc. In this work, we devised a simple and rapid method to extract DNA from many fungi for PCR analyses in which cell disruption with a shaker and phenol extraction were combined.
Aflatoxins are toxic and carcinogenic secondary metabolites produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. Current research is directed at the elimination of these compounds in important food sources. The objective of this research was to develop a method to study the induction and regulation of aflatoxin biosynthesis by examining the expression of one aflatoxin pathway gene, ver1. The promoter region of ver1 was fused to the beta-glucuronidase (GUS) gene (uidA) from Escherichia coli to form the reporter construct, GAP13. A. flavus 656-2 was transformed with this construct. Aflatoxin production, GUS activity, and transcript accumulation were determined in transformants after shifting the cultures from a nonconducive medium to a medium conducive to aflatoxin biosynthesis. Transformants harboring GAP13 displayed GUS expression only when aflatoxin was detected in culture. Further, the transcription of the uidA gene driven by the ver1 promoter followed the same profile as for the ver1 genes. The results show that the GAP13 construct may be useful as a genetic tool to study the induction of aflatoxin in situ and to identify substances that affect the expression of genes involved in aflatoxin biosynthesis. The utility of this construct to detect inducers of aflatoxin biosynthesis in maize kernels was tested in a bioassay. A heat-stable inducer of aflatoxin with a molecular size of less than 10 kDa was detected in extracts from maize kernels colonized by A. flavus.
We studied the role of the regulatory gene aflR and its product, AflR, in the biosynthesis of aflatoxin in Aspergillus. Western blot and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay analyses revealed that aflatoxin B1 accumulation was directly related to AflR expression and was regulated by various environmental and nutritional conditions, including temperature, air supply, carbon source, nitrogen source, and zinc availability. Expression of an aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway structural gene, omtA, was regulated by the presence of AflR. Induction patterns for aflR mRNA and AflR were correlated with that for omtA mRNA in an aflatoxin-producing strain of Aspergillus parasiticus. Analysis of non-aflatoxin-producing strains of A. flavus, A. sojae, and A. oryzae grown in medium suitable for aflatoxin B1 production showed that both aflR mRNA and AflR production were present; however, omtA mRNA production was not detected in any of these examined strains. AflR in the A. oryzae strain was regulated by carbon source and temperature in a manner similar to that seen with A. parasiticus.
Aflatoxins are potent toxic and carcinogenic compounds, produced by Aspergillus parasiticus and A. flavus as secondary metabolites. In this research, a polyketide synthase gene (pksL1), the key gene for aflatoxin biosynthesis initiation in A. parasiticus, has been functionally identified and molecularly characterized. PCR-derived DNA probes were used to find the pksL1 gene from subtracted, aflatoxin-related clones. Gene knockout experiments generated four pksL1 disruptants which lost both the ability to produce aflatoxins B1, B2, and G1 and the ability to accumulate norsolorinic acid and all other intermediates of the aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway. A pksL1 DNA probe detected a 6.6-kb poly(A)+ RNA transcript in Northern (RNA) hybridizations. This transcript, associated with aflatoxin production, exhibited a regulated expression that was influenced by growth phase, medium composition, and culture temperature. DNA sequencing of pksL1 revealed an open reading frame for a polypeptide (PKSL1) of 2,109 amino acids. Sequence analysis further recognized four functional domains in PKSL1, acyl carrier protein, beta-ketoacyl-acyl carrier protein synthase, acyltransferase, and thioesterase, all of which are usually present in polyketide synthases and fatty acid synthases. On the basis of these results, we propose that pksL1 encodes the polyketide synthase which synthesizes the backbone polyketide and initiates aflatoxin biosynthesis. In addition, the transcript of pksL1 exhibited heterogeneity at the polyadenylation site similar to that of plant genes.
Biosynthesis of the highly toxic and carcinogenic aflatoxins in select Aspergillus species from the common intermediate O-methylsterigmatocystin (OMST) has been postulated to require only the cytochrome P450 monooxygenase, OrdA (AflQ). We now provide evidence that the aryl alcohol dehydrogenase NorA (AflE) encoded by the aflatoxin biosynthetic gene cluster in A. flavus affects the accumulation of aflatoxins in the final steps of aflatoxin biosynthesis. Mutants with inactive norA produced reduced quantities of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), but elevated quantities of a new metabolite, deoxyAFB1. To explain this result, we suggest that, in the absence of NorA, the AFB1 reduction product, aflatoxicol, is produced and is readily dehydrated to deoxyAFB1 in the acidic medium, enabling us to observe this otherwise minor toxin produced in wild-type A. flavus.
Aspergillus flavus; aflatoxin biosynthesis; gene disruption; mass spectrometry; aryl alcohol dehydrogenase; aflatoxicol
Current studies in our laboratory demonstrate a functional link between vesicles, vacuoles and aflatoxin biosynthesis in the filamentous fungus, Aspergillus parasiticus. Under aflatoxin inducing conditions in liquid yeast-extract sucrose medium, A. parasiticus undergoes a shift from vacuole biogenesis to accumulation of an enhanced number of vesicles which exhibit significant heterogeneity in size and density. As a first step in conducting a detailed analysis of the role of these organelles in aflatoxin synthesis, we developed a novel method to purify the vesicle and vacuole fraction using protoplasts prepared from cells harvested during aflatoxin synthesis. The method includes the following steps: 1] preparation of protoplasts from mycelia grown for 36h under aflatoxin inducing conditions; 2] release of vesicles and vacuoles from purified protoplasts in the presence of Triton X-100; and 3] fractionation of the vesicles and vacuoles using a “one-step high density cushion”. The vesicle-vacuole fraction showed a 35 fold enrichment in alpha-mannosidase activity (vacuole marker) and non-detectable succinate dehydrogenase and lactate dehydrogenase activities (mitochondrial and cytoplasmic markers, respectively). Confocal laser scanning microscopy with the vacuole dyes MDY-64 and CMAC demonstrated that the fraction contained pure vesicles and vacuoles and was devoid of membranous debris. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) confirmed that no mitochondria or unbroken protoplasts contaminated the purified fraction. The purified organelles exhibited significant size heterogeneity with a range of sizes similar to that observed in whole cells and protoplasts.
Protoplast; vacuole; vesicle; high density sucrose cushion; Aspergillus parasiticus
Traditional molecular techniques have been used in research in discovering the genes and enzymes that are involved in aflatoxin formation and genetic regulation. We cloned most, if not all, of the aflatoxin pathway genes. A consensus gene cluster for aflatoxin biosynthesis was discovered in 2005. The factors that affect aflatoxin formation have been studied. In this report, the author summarized the current status of research progress and future possibilities that may be used for solving aflatoxin contamination.
aflatoxins; mycotoxins; Aspergillus flavus; gene cluster; gene regulation; biocontrol; food contaminants
Aspergillus flavus isolates produce only aflatoxins B1 and B2, while Aspergillus parasiticus and Aspergillus nomius produce aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, and G2. Sequence comparison of the aflatoxin biosynthesis pathway gene cluster upstream from the polyketide synthase gene, pksA, revealed that A. flavus isolates are missing portions of genes (cypA and norB) predicted to encode, respectively, a cytochrome P450 monooxygenase and an aryl alcohol dehydrogenase. Insertional disruption of cypA in A. parasiticus yielded transformants that lack the ability to produce G aflatoxins but not B aflatoxins. The enzyme encoded by cypA has highest amino acid identity to Gibberella zeae Tri4 (38%), a P450 monooxygenase previously shown to be involved in trichodiene epoxidation. The substrate for CypA may be an intermediate formed by oxidative cleavage of the A ring of O-methylsterigmatocystin by OrdA, the P450 monooxygenase required for formation of aflatoxins B1 and B2.
2-Mercaptoethanol inhibits growth of Aspergillus parasiticus NRRL 3240 and aflatoxin formation by the fungus. When added to the resuspended medium, 2-mercaptoethanol inhibited [1-14C]acetate incorporation into both aflatoxins and neutral lipids, thereby showing that it acts at an early stage of aflatoxin biosynthesis. The inhibition is probably due to its chelating action on zinc, which is essential for aflatoxin production. It is proposed that any chelating agent that selectively binds to zinc will inhibit aflatoxin formation.
Homologs of aflatoxin biosynthetic genes have been identified in the pine needle pathogen Dothistroma pini. D. pini produces dothistromin, a difuranoanthraquinone toxin with structural similarity to the aflatoxin precursor versicolorin B. Previous studies with purified dothistromin suggest a possible role for this toxin in pathogenicity. By using an aflatoxin gene as a hybridization probe, a genomic D. pini clone was identified that contained four dot genes with similarity to genes in aflatoxin and sterigmatocystin gene clusters with predicted activities of a ketoreductase (dotA), oxidase (dotB), major facilitator superfamily transporter (dotC), and thioesterase (dotD). A D. pini dotA mutant was made by targeted gene replacement and shown to be severely impaired in dothistromin production, confirming that dotA is involved in dothistromin biosynthesis. Accumulation of versicolorin A (a precursor of aflatoxin) by the dotA mutant confirms that the dotA gene product is involved in an aflatoxin-like biosynthetic pathway. Since toxin genes have been found to be clustered in fungi in every case analyzed so far, it is speculated that the four dot genes may comprise part of a dothistromin biosynthetic gene cluster. A fifth gene, ddhA, is not a homolog of aflatoxin genes and could be at one end of the dothistromin cluster. These genes will allow comparative biochemical and genetic studies of the aflatoxin and dothistromin biosynthetic pathways and may also lead to new ways to control Dothistroma needle blight.
Dichlorvos (dimethyl 2,2-dichlorovinyl phosphate) inhibits the biosynthesis of aflatoxin by Aspergillus parasiticus. Cultures treated with dichlorvos excrete an orange pigment which can be converted into aflatoxin B1 by the untreated mycelia. The orange pigment was partially identified as an acetyl derivative of versiconol-type compound. In the presence of dichlorvos, sterigmatocystin is converted into aflatoxin B1 without being interfered, but averufin is converted into the orange pigment instead of aflatoxin B1. Therefore, dichlorvos appears to block an enzymatic step in the aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway, which lies beyond averufin but before sterigmatocystin, at the formation of the orange pigment.
The aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway regulatory gene, aflR, encodes a putative 47-kDa protein containing a zinc cluster DNA binding motif. It is required for the transcription of all of the characterized aflatoxin pathway genes in both Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of aflR overexpression on temporal gene expression, aflatoxin production, and nitrate inhibition of aflatoxin biosynthesis in A. flavus. An inducible expression construct was made by fusing the coding region of aflR to the promoter region of the A. flavus adh1 gene. This construct was transformed into A. flavus 656-2 (FGSC A1010), a strain mutated at the aflR locus. Strain 656-2 containing the adh1(p)::aflR construct had induced transcription of two early aflatoxin pathway genes, nor-1 and pksA, and produced wild-type concentrations of aflatoxin in a temporal pattern similar to that of wild-type strains of A. flavus. Strains 656-2 and 86-10 (FGSC A1009) an aflatoxigenic strain, were transformed with a construct containing the constitutive promoter gpdA driving aflR. Transformants of these strains constitutively expressed aflR, fas-1A, pksA, nor-1, and omtA but did not constitutively produce aflatoxin. Strain 86-10 containing the gpdA(p)::aflR construct produced 50 times more aflatoxin than 86-10, but the temporal pattern of aflatoxin production was the same as for 86-10, and aflatoxin production was also induced by sucrose. The addition of 10 g of nitrate per liter to sucrose low salts medium inhibited aflatoxin production by both strain 86-10 and a transformant of 86-10 containing the gpdA(p)::aflR construct, indicating that nitrate inhibition of aflatoxin biosynthesis does not occur solely at the level of aflR transcription. These studies show that constitutive overexpression of the pathway transcriptional regulatory gene aflR leads to higher transcript accumulation of pathway genes and increased aflatoxin production but that the initiation of aflatoxin biosynthesis is not solely regulated by the transcriptional activities of the biosynthetic pathway.
Aflatoxins belong to a family of decaketides that are produced as secondary metabolites by Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. The aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway involves several enzymatic steps that appear to be regulated by the afl2 gene in A. flavus and the apa2 gene in A. parasiticus. Several lines of evidence indicate that these two genes are homologous. The DNA sequences of the two genes are highly similar, they both are involved in the regulation of aflatoxin biosynthesis, and apa2 can complement the afl2 mutation in A. flavus. Because of these similarities, we propose that these two genes are homologs, and because of the ability of these genes to regulate aflatoxin biosynthesis, we suggest that they be designated aflR. We report here the further characterization of aflR from A. flavus and show that aflR codes for a 2,078-bp transcript with an open reading frame of 1,311 nucleotides that codes for 437 amino acids and a putative protein of 46,679 daltons. Analysis of the predicted amino acid sequence indicated that the polypeptide contains a zinc cluster motif between amino acid positions 29 and 56. This region contains the consensus sequence Cys-Xaa2-Cys-Xaa6-Cys-Xaa6-Cys-Xaa2-Cys-Xaa6+ ++-Cys. This motif has been found in several fungal transcriptional regulatory proteins. DNA hybridization of the aflR gene with genomic digests of seven polyketide-producing fungi revealed similar sequences in three other species related to A. flavus: A. parasiticus, A. oryzae, and A. sojae. Finally, we present evidence for an antisense transcript (aflRas) derived from the opposite strand of aflR, suggesting that the aflR locus involves some form of antisense regulation.
Aflatoxin biosynthesis in Aspergillus parasiticus requires at least 17 enzyme activities (from acetate). Although the activities of most aflatoxin biosynthetic enzymes have been established, the mechanisms that govern transport and sub-cellular localization of these enzymes are not clear. We developed plasmid constructs that express Nor-1 fused to a green fluorescent protein reporter (EGFP) to monitor transport and localization of this early pathway enzyme in real time in Aspergillus parasiticus. Plasmids expressing EGFP fused to Nor-1 were introduced into A. parasiticus B62 (carries non-functional Nor-1). Transformants were screened for increased aflatoxin accumulation (restored Nor-1 activity) on coconut agar medium and for EGFP expression using fluorescence microscopy. Increased aflatoxin accumulation was confirmed by TLC and ELISA. Nor-1 fused to EGFP at either the N- or C- terminus functionally complemented non-functional Nor-1 in B62 and increased aflatoxin synthesis to wild-type (N-terminus) or lower levels (C-terminus). We detected full-length Nor-1 fusion proteins in transformants with increased aflatoxin accumulation (Western blot) and determined that the expression plasmid integrated at the nor-1 locus in these cells (Southern blot). Confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) demonstrated that Nor-1 fusion proteins localized in the cytoplasm and vacuoles of fungal hyphae grown on aflatoxin-inducing solid media for 48 h; control EGFP (no Nor-1) did not localize to vacuoles until 72 h. The highest rate of aflatoxin synthesis coincided with the highest rate of transport of Nor-1 fusion proteins to the vacuole strongly suggesting that Nor-1 is synthesized in the cytoplasm and transported to the vacuole to carry out an early step in aflatoxin synthesis.
Aflatoxins are polyketide-derived secondary metabolites produced by Aspergillus spp. The toxic effects of aflatoxins have adverse
consequences for human health and agricultural economics. The aflR gene, a regulatory gene for aflatoxin biosynthesis, encodes a
protein containing a zinc-finger DNA-binding motif. AFLR-Protein three-dimensional model was generated using Robetta server.
The modeled AFLR-Protein was further optimization and validation using Rampage. In the simulations, we monitored the
backbone atoms and the C-α-helix of the modeled protein. The low RMSD and the simulation time indicate that, as expected, the
3D structural model of AFLR-protein represents a stable folding conformation. This study paves the way for generating computer
molecular models for proteins whose crystal structures are not available and which would aid in detailed molecular mechanism of
inhibition of aflatoxin.
aflR gene; aflatoxin; RMSD
The mycotoxin aflatoxin is a secondary metabolite and potent human carcinogen. We investigated one mechanism that links stress response with coordinate activation of genes involved in aflatoxin biosynthesis in Aspergillus parasiticus. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays demonstrated that AtfB, a basic leucine zipper (bZIP) transcription factor, is a master co-regulator that binds promoters of early (fas-1), middle (ver-1), and late (omtA) aflatoxin biosynthetic genes as well as stress-response genes (mycelia-specific cat1 and mitochondria-specific Mn sod) at cAMP response element motifs. A novel conserved motif 5′-T/GNT/CAAG CCNNG/AA/GC/ANT/C-3′ was identified in promoters of the aflatoxin biosynthetic and stress-response genes. A search for transcription factors identified SrrA as a transcription factor that could bind to the motif. Moreover, we also identified a STRE motif (5′-CCCCT-3′) in promoters of aflatoxin biosynthetic and stress-response genes, and competition EMSA suggested that MsnA binds to this motif. Our study for the first time provides strong evidence to suggest that at least four transcription factors (AtfB, SrrA, AP-1, and MsnA) participate in a regulatory network that induces aflatoxin biosynthesis as part of the cellular response to oxidative stress in A. parasiticus.
Aflatoxin; Aspergillus parasiticus; oxidative stress; reactive oxygen species; secondary metabolism
A differential hybridization strategy was used to clone genes associated with aflatoxin biosynthesis. A genomic library, formed between nuclear DNA and the pUC19 plasmid, was screened with three different cDNA probes by the colony hybridization procedure. Nineteen clones were selected; all were positively correlated with and presumably enriched with genes associated with aflatoxin production. Some of these clones were further characterized by using them as probes in Northern (RNA blot) hybridizations. Five clones hybridized strongly with some polyadenylated RNAs formed during the transition to or during idiophase when aflatoxin was produced. However, little or no corresponding hybridization occurred with polyadenylated RNAs formed in early and mid-log growth phase. Two of the clones were further used as probes to hybridize with polyadenylated RNAs formed under aflatoxin-permissive and nonpermissive temperatures. Hybridization occurred with RNA species formed under the permissive temperature only.
The genes encoding the aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway enzymes have been localized as a cluster to a 75-kb DNA fragment. The enzymatic functions of the products of most of the genes in the cluster are known, but there are a few genes that have not yet been characterized. We report here the characterization of one of these genes, a gene designated aflJ. This gene resides in the cluster adjacent to the pathway regulatory gene, aflR, and the two genes are divergently transcribed. Disruption of aflJ in Aspergillus flavus results in a failure to produce aflatoxins and a failure to convert exogenously added pathway intermediates norsolorinic acid, sterigmatocystin, and O-methylsterigmatocystin to aflatoxin. The disrupted strain does, however, accumulate pksA, nor-1, ver-1, and omtA transcripts under conditions conducive to aflatoxin biosynthesis. Therefore, disruption of aflJ does not affect transcription of these genes, and aflJ does not appear to have a regulatory function similar to that of aflR. Sequence analysis of aflJ and its putative peptide, AflJ, did not reveal any enzymatic domains or significant similarities to proteins of known function. The putative peptide does contain three regions predicted to be membrane-spanning domains and a microbodies C-terminal targeting signal.
Among the enzymatic steps in the aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway, the conversion of O-methylsterigmatocystin to aflatoxin has been proposed to be catalyzed by an oxidoreductase. Transformants of Aspergillus flavus 649WAF2 containing a 3.3-kb genomic DNA fragment and the aflatoxin biosynthesis regulatory gene aflR converted exogenously supplied O-methylsterigmatocystin to aflatoxin B1. A gene, ord1, corresponding to a transcript of about 2 kb was identified within the 3.3-kb DNA fragment. The promoter region presented a putative AFLR binding site and a TATA sequence. The nucleotide sequence of the gene revealed an open reading frame encoding a protein of 528 amino acids with a deduced molecular mass of 60.2 kDa. The gene contained six introns and seven exons. Heterologous expression of the ord1 open reading frame under the transcriptional control of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae galactose-inducible gal1 promoter results in the ability to convert O-methylsterigmatocystin to aflatoxin B1. The data indicate that ord1 is sufficient to accomplish the last step of the aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway. A search of various databases for similarity indicated that ord1 encodes a cytochrome P-450-type monooxygenase, and the gene has been assigned to a new P-450 gene family named CYP64.
An Aspergillus parasiticus gene, designated apa-2, was identified as a regulatory gene associated with aflatoxin biosynthesis. The apa-2 gene was cloned on the basis of overproduction of pathway intermediates following transformation of fungal strains with cosmid DNA containing the aflatoxin biosynthetic genes nor-1 and ver-1. Transformation of an O-methylsterigmatocystin-accumulating strain, A. parasiticus SRRC 2043, with a 5.5-kb HindIII-XbaI DNA fragment containing apa-2 resulted in overproduction of all aflatoxin pathway intermediates analyzed. Specific enzyme activities associated with the conversion of norsolorinic acid and sterigmatocystin were increased approximately twofold. The apa-2 gene was found to complement an A. flavus afl-2 mutant strain for aflatoxin production, suggesting that apa-2 is functionally homologous to afl-2. Comparison of the A. parasiticus apa-2 gene DNA sequence with that of the A. flavus afl-2 gene (G. A. Payne, G. J. Nystorm, D. Bhatnagar, T. E. Cleveland, and C. P. Woloshuk, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 59:156-162, 1993) showed that they shared > 95% DNA homology. Physical mapping of cosmid subclones placed apa-2 approximately 8 kb from ver-1.