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Filamentous Fungi and Mycotoxins in Cheese

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A fungus is filamentous eukaryote have no chlorophyll. It has a thread like structure called hypae and the complex network of hypae is termed as mycelium. Generally fungi can decay the dead organic matter therefore known as decomposer. Some fungal species are pathogenic and cause various diseases of animals, plants and humans. It is also responsible for the food spoilage which is than unfit for consumption. Several fungi produce secondary metabolites such as penicillin. These metabolites are used to carry out different activities such as cheese, bread and wine making.

Many fungal species belonging to the genera Penicillium, Aspergillus and Fusarium produce metabolites known as mycotoxins, when ingested as food product, are harmful for group of animals such as vertebrate. Commonly present in soil, crops and ambient air. The mycotoxigenic fungi are thought to be the major contaminants in foods and adversely affect the human health and food safety. Mycotoxins are low molecular weight secondary metabolites have no direct role in normal functioning. It has selective advantage for specific strain in complex environment, particularly in competition, reproduction, inhibition and communication.

Filamentous Fungi in Cheeses

Many studies were conducted for the investigation of fungal communities in dairy products especially in cheese. The most common species detected through culture-dependent method were Penicillium, that is 63% of cheeses, followed by Mucor spp. (27%), Geotrichum candidum (17%), and 12 other fungal genera identified in 2 to 10% of the samples. Currently in the culture-independent T-RFLP method different fungal species such as G.candidum, M.racemosus, P. camemberti, P. caseicola, P. chrysogenum, Cladosporium cladosporioides, P. commune, and P. roqueforti were observed in Camembert and Brie cheeses.

Mycotoxins in Cheese

The first mycotoxins detected in cheese were Aflatoxins, discovered in 1960. Further studies identified several common mycotoxins in cheese such as Roquefortine C, Mycophenolic acid (MPA), Aflatoxin M1 (AFM1), Aflatoxin G1 (AFG1) and Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1). Sterigmatocystin (STC), Cyclopiazonic acid (CPA), Patulin and Ochratoxin were also detected in different cheese samples. Mycotoxins contaminate cheese either directly or indirectly. Milk contamination show indirect infectivity while technological filamentous fungi and spoilage show indirect infectivity [11]. Direct contamination of several cheeses is due to the addition of mold species intentionally during cheese-making for various purposes such as ripening, appearance, flavor and texture improvement.

Mycotoxins present in cheese due to fungal contamination:

  • Aflatoxins (AFs). The most abundant and structurally related mycotoxins are AFB1, AFB2, AFG1 and AFG2 Certain Aspergillus species produce Aflatoxins, which is the major source of contamination for dairy products mainly cheese.
  • Sterigmatocystin (STC). Sterigmatocystin (STC) is naturally xanthone and has structural similarity to Aflatoxins (AFs) but functionally less toxic. Few Aspergillus species are able to produces Sterigmatocystin. These are the cause of different tumors as a result of binding to DNA after activation through liver enzymes. As compared to AFB1 these are highly cytotoxic and carcinogenic.
  • Citrinin. Naturally, Penicillium species such as P. viridicatum, P. expansum, P. verrucosum, P. camemberti, and Aspergillus species can produce citrinin. It can also be produce in laboratory under specific conditions e.g. Aspergillus candidus. Decline in selective membrane permeability as well as cell death can be induced by citrinin. These can exhibit different effects in different organisms such as nephrotoxic effects in mammals and stimulate inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation in pigs.
  • Ochratoxin. Basically, OTA was discovered as the metabolite of Aspergillus ochraceus during screening of large number of metabolites [16]. It was considered as nephrotoxic in poultry and swine. Non homologous contaminations of OTA were detected in various cheeses due to the fungal growth and show blue-green veins. The cheese may be contaminated during the process of manufacturing. Ochratoxins acts as etiological agent in endemic nephropathy.

Mycotoxins potentially produced by the commercial cheese mold P. roqueforti

Among the 58 Penicillium species only 25 species produce Roquefortine C metabolite. The mycotoxin, Mycophenolic acids (MPA) are potentially toxic but also have significant applications as a drug an immunosuppressant for kidney, liver and heart transplant conditions. Naturally P. roqueforti produce Festuclavine, Isofumigaclavines (A and B), and Agroclavine.

Mycotoxins potentially produced by the commercial cheese mold P. camemberti

Cyclopiazonic acid is calcium-dependent ATPase inhibitor and induces ion transport variation across cell membranes. It is linked with the group of mycotoxins where only few toxins are able to transfer into milk.

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