Aspergillus niger is perhaps the most important fungus used in biotechnology, and is also one of the most commonly encountered fungi contaminating foods and feedstuffs, and occurring in soil and indoor environments. Many of its industrial applications have been given GRAS status (generally regarded as safe). However, A. niger has the potential to produce two groups of potentially carcinogenic mycotoxins: fumonisins and ochratoxins. In this study all available industrial and many non-industrial strains of A. niger (180 strains) as well as 228 strains from 17 related black Aspergillus species were examined for mycotoxin production. None of the related 17 species of black Aspergilli produced fumonisins. Fumonisins (B(2), B(4), and B(6)) were detected in 81% of A. niger, and ochratoxin A in 17%, while 10% of the strains produced both mycotoxins. Among the industrial strains the same ratios were 83%, 33% and 26% respectively. Some of the most frequently used strains in industry NRRL 337, 3112 and 3122 produced both toxins and several strains used for citric acid production were among the best producers of fumonisins in pure agar culture. Most strains used for other biotechnological processes also produced fumonisins. Strains optimized through random mutagenesis usually maintained their mycotoxin production capability. Toxigenic strains were also able to produce the toxins on media suggested for citric acid production with most of the toxins found in the biomass, thereby questioning the use of the remaining biomass as animal feed. In conclusion it is recommended to use strains of A. niger with inactive or inactivated gene clusters for fumonisins and ochratoxins, or to choose isolates for biotechnological uses in related non-toxigenic species such as A. tubingensis, A. brasiliensis, A vadensis or A. acidus, which neither produce fumonisins nor ochratoxins.
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