Aspergillus niger is a commonly occurring species of fungus that is found primarily on decaying vegetation such as grain, compost, leaves and food products. In the kitchen, you may know it as the black mold that appears on forgotten about or otherwise old fruits and vegetables. While aspergillus niger is perhaps best known as an allergen and as the cause of the disease aspergillosis, it also has several industrial uses.
Aspergillus niger is known to cause allergic reactions if inhaled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency at epa.gov. However, the antigen that causes lung hypersensitive and produces these reactions is found primarily in strains of the fungus used in industrial applications (so you don't worry about those fruits and vegetables). In severe cases of exposure to aspergillus niger, asthma and aveolitis (inflammation of the lungs' air sacs, or alveoli) have been known to occur.
According to brighthub.com, in some instances of aspergillus niger inhalation, the fungus can actually take root inside of the human body, such as in the pulmonary (lung) cavity or the bronchi, where the wind pipe branches off into the lungs. This condition is known as aspergillosis and can have some terrible side effects. According to epa.gov, individuals with the disease commonly suffer from chronic coughing and coughing up blood (hemoptysis) and may also develop cysts and other growths inside of their lungs. Aspergillosis develops most commonly in individuals with preexisting immune system deficiencies.
Aspergillus niger, despite its reputation for causing allergic reactions and disease, is commonly utilized in the food industry to produce enzymes. According to epa.gov, the fungus is fermented in incredibly large vessels (sometimes as large as 100,000 liters, or approximately 26, 000 gallons) and is then processed into cullulases, invertase, amyloglucosidase, aamylase, lactase, acid proteases and pectinases. Aspergillus niger is also used in preparing Pu-erh, a Chinese, leaf-based tea.
Citric and Gluconic Acid Production
According to epa.gov, the food industry also ferments aspergillus niger to produce citric acid (commonly used in beverages and cooking) and gluconic acid (which is used both in cleaning products and as a food additive). In 2006, the World Health Organization found that aspergillus niger-derived organic acids are not only safe to consume, but they also demonstrate anticarcinogenic (cancer-preventing) and antiangiogenic (tumor-reducing) properties.
Because of its distinctive, dark color and resistance to antifungal treatments, aspergillus niger is also commonly used---in its natural, unfermented form---to help test the effectiveness of food preservatives in preventing mold formation. Additionally, agriculturists sometimes use the fungus to test soil, as it is quite sensitive to even the slightest deficiencies in a soil's micronutrient content.
- Photo Credit rotten apples image by Harvey Hudson from Fotolia.com
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