Increased aflatoxin contamination in corn by the fungus Aspergillus flavus
is associated with frequent periods of drought and heat stress during the reproductive stages of the plants. The objective of this study was to evaluate the relationship between aflatoxin contamination and physiological responses of corn plants under drought and heat stress. The study was conducted in Stoneville, MS, USA under irrigated and non-irrigated conditions. Five commercial hybrids, P31G70, P33F87, P32B34, P31B13 and DKC63-42 and two inbred germplasm lines, PI 639055 and PI 489361, were evaluated. The plants were inoculated with Aspergillus flavus
(K-54) at mid-silk stage, and aflatoxin contamination was determined on the kernels at harvest. Several physiological measurements which are indicators of stress response were determined. The results suggested that PI 639055, PI 489361 and hybrid DKC63-42 were more sensitive to drought and high temperature stress in the non-irrigated plots and P31G70 was the most tolerant among all the genotypes. Aflatoxin contamination was the highest in DKC63-42 and PI 489361 but significantly lower in P31G70. However, PI 639055, which is an aflatoxin resistant germplasm, had the lowest aflatoxin contamination, even though it was one of the most stressed genotypes. Possible reasons for these differences are discussed. These results suggested that the physiological responses were associated with the level of aflatoxin contamination in all the genotypes, except PI 639055. These and other physiological responses related to stress may help examine differences among corn genotypes in aflatoxin contamination.