Megan Biango-Daniels, Postdoctoral Scholar
Department of Biology, Tufts University
Topic: Bad apples: a new disease and its impacts, farm to fork
The United States is the world’s second-largest apple producer. Before this economically important crop makes it to grocery shelves, it faces numerous fungal pathogens, a problem compounded by its long postharvest storage. Fungal rots contribute to the 10-15% of apples that are lost between the farm and the grocery store. Paecilomyces niveus (Byssochlamys nivea) is an important heat-resistant food spoilage mold of fruit products that produces patulin, a mycotoxin often associated with moldy apples. This understudied ascomycete was found in a third of New York orchard soils sampled. My work demonstrated for the first time that the fungus is a plant pathogen, capable of infecting fruit through wounds in the orchard and postharvest. When infected apples are used for apple juice concentrate, they harbor hard-to-kill ascospores that can survive the extended thermal processing used. This work suggests P. niveus may be introduced to wounded fruit from orchard soils and go on to cause spoilage and mycotoxin problems in processed products. Due to its superficial similarity to other diseases, Paecilomyces rot may be overlooked. In proposing a novel explanation for the episodic nature of P. niveus contamination, this research links an apple disease with food spoilage.
Host Lab: Pfister