News last update:6 Aug 2012

Fungus source for Africa's deadly maize

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant pathologist and his colleagues found that a poisonous strain of the fungus Aspergillus flavus, known as the "S" strain, is to blame for causing 125 food-related deaths in Kenya in 2004.

Through a special permit, the researchers were able to obtain samples of contaminated maize from affected Kenyan villages. After grinding the corn, they isolated the fungi and grew them in culture. Surprisingly, they found the "S" strain of A. flavus, a potent aflatoxin producer not previously known in Africa, to be the most prevalent source of toxins in the maize.

Carcinogenic fungus
The fungus, which produces invisible toxins that are known to be carcinogenic, had contaminated portions of the country's maize crop. This is the third time since 1981 that the so-called "Kenyan death fungus" has tainted the African nation's primary food staple with deadly levels of poisons.

The scientists' findings, reported in the current issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, will be critical to researchers who are trying to devise methods for preventing future cases of fungal poisoning, or aflatoxicosis, in African maize.

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