Alternaria sp. are important fungal contaminants of grain products; they secrete four structural classes of compounds that are toxic or carcinogenic to plants and animals and cause considerable economic losses to growers and the food-processing industry. Alternaria toxins have been detected by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and other techniques. Here, we report the development of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)–based method for the detection of Alternaria DNA. PCR primers were designed to anneal to the ITS1 and ITS2 regions of the 5.8S rDNA gene of Alternaria alternata or Alternaria solani but not to other microbial or plant DNA. We compared the sensitivity of PCR in detecting Alternaria DNA, that of the HPLC method in detecting Alternaria alternariol and alternariol methyl ether toxins, and that of the morphological examination of mycelia and conidia in experimentally infested corn samples. The sensitivity of toxin detection for HPLC was above the level of contamination in a set of commercially obtained grain samples, resulting in negative scores for all samples, while the PCR-based method and mold growth plating followed by morphological identification of Alternaria gave parallel, positive results for 8 of 10 samples. The PCR assay required just 8 h, enabling the rapid and simultaneous testing of many samples at a low cost. PCR-based evidence for the presence of Alternaria DNA followed by positive assay results for Alternaria toxins would support the rejection of a shipment of grain.

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