Aspergillus species are known to cause damage to food crops and are associated with opportunistic infections in humans. In the United States, significant losses have been reported in peanut production due to contamination caused by the Aspergillus species. This study evaluated the antifungal effect and anti-aflatoxin activity of selected plant-based essential oils (EOs) against Aspergillus flavus in contaminated peanuts, Tifguard, runner type variety. All fifteen essential oils, tested by the poisoned food technique, inhibited the growth of A. flavus at concentrations ranging between 125 and 4000 ppm. The most effective oils with total clearance of the A. flavus on agar were clove (500 ppm), thyme (1000 ppm), lemongrass, and cinnamon (2000 ppm) EOs. The gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis of clove EO revealed eugenol (83.25%) as a major bioactive constituent. An electron microscopy study revealed that clove EO at 500 ppm caused noticeable morphological and ultrastructural alterations of the somatic and reproductive structures. Using both the ammonia vapor (AV) and coconut milk agar (CMA) methods, we not only detected the presence of an aflatoxigenic form of A. flavus in our contaminated peanuts, but we also observed that aflatoxin production was inhibited by clove EO at concentrations between 500 and 2000 ppm. In addition, we established a correlation between the concentration of clove EO and AFB1 production by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). We demonstrate in our study that clove oil could be a promising natural fungicide for an effective bio-control, non-toxic bio-preservative, and an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic additives against A. flavus in Georgia peanuts.
Keywords: Aspergillus flavus; aflatoxin; antifungal activity; essential oils; peanuts.