Towards Managing and Controlling Aflatoxin Producers within Aspergillus Species in Infested Rice Grains Collected from Local Markets in Kenya
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Rice grains can be attacked by a range of pathogens, including Aspergillus species, which can cause the accumulation of aflatoxins and represent a serious threat to the consumers. Aflatoxins are secondary metabolites synthesized by Aspergillus species and naturally occur in various foodstuffs. In this study, we sought to analyze the prevalence of aflatoxin-producing Aspergillus spp. in rice grains currently sold in Kenyan local markets. We analyzed a total of 98 samples randomly collected and primarily analyzed to observe moisture content and fungal growth. We then isolated Aspergillus species, characterized them morphologically and using the Internal transcribed spacer (ITS) primers. Finally, we screened them for aflatoxin-producing isolates targeting Norsolorinic Acid (nor-1) and Versicolorin (ver-1) specific genes involved in aflatoxin biosynthesis. We observed that all tested samples were contaminated. The highest prevalence of Aspergillus species and aflatoxigenic fungal species, had values of 66% and 36.4% for nor-1 and ver-1, respectively. In total, 66% of all isolates were confirmed to be aflatoxin producers. The occurrence of high contamination levels of Aspergillus species points to the possibility of production of aflatoxins in rice grains. This work provides a baseline for future studies on the occurrence of mycotoxigenic fungal species in rice grains being sold in local markets and strategies to control these aflatoxigenic strains at pre- and post-harvest levels.