Comparative genomics of aspergillus flavus s and l morphotypes yield insights into niche adaptation

Mana Ohkura, Peter J. Cotty, Marc J. Orbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Aspergillus flavus, the primary causal agent for aflatoxin contamination on crops, consists of isolates with two distinct morphologies: Isolates of the S morphotype produce numerous small sclerotia and lower numbers of conidia while isolates of the L morphotype produce fewer large sclerotia and abundant conidia. The morphotypes also differ in aflatoxin production with S isolates consistently producing high concentrations of aflatoxin, whereas L isolates range from atoxigenic to highly toxigenic. The production of abundant sclerotia by the S morphotype suggests adaptation for long-term survival in the soil, whereas the production of abundant conidia by the L morphotype suggests adaptation for aerial dispersal to the phyllosphere. To identify genomic changes that support differential niche adaption, the sequences of three S and three L morphotype isolates were compared. Differences in genome structure and gene content were identified between the morphotypes. A .530 kb inversion between the morphotypes affect a secondary metabolite gene cluster and a cutinase gene. The morphotypes also differed in proteins predicted to be involved in carbon/nitrogen metabolism, iron acquisition, antimicrobial defense, and evasion of host immunity. The S morphotype genomes contained more intact secondary metabolite clusters indicating there is higher selection pressure to maintain secondary metabolism in the soil and that it is not limited to aflatoxin production. The L morphotype genomes were enriched in amino acid transporters, suggesting efficient nitrogen transport may be critical in the nutrient limited phyllosphere. These findings indicate the genomes of the two morphotypes differ beyond developmental genes and have diverged as they adapted to their respective niches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3915-3930
Number of pages16
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Aspergillus flavus
  • adaptation
  • aflatoxin
  • comparative
  • genomics
  • sclerotia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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