Aspergillus ochraceus is a soil fungus known to produce ochratoxin A, a harmful secondary metabolite. Prevention and control of fungal pathogens mostly rely on chemical fungicides, which is one of the contributing factors in the emergence of the fungal resistance, hence novel methods for fungal eradication have been extensively researched. The cold atmospheric pressure (CAP) plasma generated in ambient air has been recently applied in microbial decontamination. Here we used the diffuse coplanar surface barrier discharge in inactivation of a toxigenic strain A. ochraceus. The plasma-treated conidia and mycelium exhibited morphological changes such as ruptures and desiccation. Mycelium dehydration and changes in the chemical composition of hyphal surface accompanied plasma treatment. The growth of 26 h old mycelia were significantly restricted after 30 s of plasma treatment. The conidial vitality declined 4 logs after 180 s of plasma exposure leading to almost complete decontamination. After shorter plasma treatment of conidia, the ochratoxin A (OTA) production increased at the early stage of cultivation, but the overall level was significantly reduced compared to untreated samples after longer cultivation. Our results indicated that the fungal growth and the OTA production were significantly changed by plasma treatment and underscored CAP plasma as a promising method in the decontamination of A. ochraceus without a risk to generate strains with increased OTA production.
Keywords: Aspergillus ochraceus; Cold atmospheric pressure plasma; Decontamination; Ochratoxin A.