It’s time to be afraid of fungi

There is a lot One of the things in this world that might keep you up at night. Of course, there’s COVID-19, but if you’re anxious like me, you’ll probably get rid of a very long list of additional worries: being hit by a car, cancer, poisoning from an unwise meal at the gas station, being trap in a wildfire, electrocuting yourself and plugging in The laptop at a dodgy café. But what’s not likely to be at the top of the list is fungi. Unfortunately, that may change.

In 2009, a patient in Japan developed a new fungal infection in his ear. highly portable Candida auris The fungus was previously unknown to science (and resistant to the drugs available to treat it), but within a few years, cases began appearing in Venezuela, Iran, Russia, and South Africa.

Scientists assumed the spread was due to human travel, but when they sequenced the cases, they were surprised that these lineages were not closely related at all. Instead, scientists have been seeing multiple, independent infections of an unknown fungal disease, appearing around the world, all at the same time. About a third of the infected Candida auris They die from infection within 30 days, and there are now thousands of cases in 47 countries. Some scholars believe that this sudden boom in global states is a harbinger of things to come.

People should look We are fortunate that we do not have to constantly worry about fungal infections. “If you were a tree, you would fear fungi,” says Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins University who studies fungal diseases. And if you happen to be a fish, reptile or amphibian, fungi will also be at the top of your list of concerns, have you been able to enumerate them. (Fungal infections are known to kill snakes, fish, corals, insects, etc.). Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (chytrid) has decimated amphibian populations worldwide, with some scientists estimating that chytrid is responsible for the population decline of more than 500 amphibian species. To put that in context, that’s about one in every 16 species of amphibians known to science.

One of the reasons why fungal infections are common in many organisms is that the same fungi are ubiquitous. “That’s dating, but you know the Sting song ‘Every breath you take?’ Well, every breath you inhale has somewhere between 100 and 700,000 spores, says Andre Speck, a mycologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.” They made it to the space station. . They are absolutely everywhere.”

Humans can develop fungal infections (athlete’s foot, for starters, fungal diseases are a major cause of death for people immunocompromised by HIV). But people are generally less likely to fall into mushrooms for one big reason: people are hot. (Although if you want to be a party pedant, you might enjoy knowing that humans are generally not, in fact, the commonly cited 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This number comes from a German study conducted in 1851. In fact, The human body appears to have cooled recently, the global average being between 97.5 and 97.9 degrees Fahrenheit.) Warm-blooded environments, in general, tend to be too warm for mushrooms to survive. One Casadevall study estimated that 95 percent of fungal species simply could not survive the average human internal temperature.

You can see the temperature barrier in action when you look at the animals hibernating, which requires lower internal temperatures to survive the winter. Bats, for example, have recently suffered massive declines due to white-nose syndrome, which strikes them while they hibernate and is therefore much cooler than usual.

For Casadevall, these findings support his theory about the animal world’s long history with fungi. He argues that our warm-blooded nature may have evolved precisely to avoid the types of fungal infections that could wipe out cold-blooded populations.

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