Friday, 16 January 2015

Friday Fungus - why fungi are so important

It's probably true that we wouldn't be here were in not for fungi - it was the mushroom brotherhood that first colonised the land helping to pave the way for plants, insects and eventually us higher order animals. OK it was a long time ago but fungi remain central to our life on the planet. And death:

“For most people, fungal disease means a bit of athlete’s foot or a manky-looking toe nail. These maybe irritating and unsightly but fungi can do far worse. Fungi kill more people than malaria and tuberculosis worldwide.  They destroy about a third of all arable food crops. Some species have led to the extinction of many animal and plant species – sometimes even before the species has even been discovered. Fungi were on the earth long before plants and other life forms. They readily adapt to increasing globalization and climate change and we need to rise to the challenge to deal with the threats posed by these versatile and intriguing organisms.”

That's Professor Rosemary Barnes from Cardiff University's Institute of Infection and Immunity and is a specialist in fungal infections. She also points out that the bad fungi are a very small part of the total fungal world - just 600 out of two million known species are disease-causing with just 30 causing 99% of these diseases. Plus, of course, fungi are saving lives as well:

Antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria pose a very real threat to the world, one that a highly concerned World Health Organization (WHO) has kept in its radar for years. Now a team of researchers has identified a new natural antibiotic in horse dung-dwelling fungus, offering up secrets that might help us avoid or at least understand an encroaching AMR world crisis.

Those clever fungi have worked out how to adapt rapidly as the bacteria adapt and change. And this flexibility can be synthesised in the laboratory - taking us a step towards having adaptive, responsive antibiotics rather than the dead end (and also fungal in origin) drugs we know are such a problem.

Maybe we need more mycologists?


1 comment:

Dr Evil said...

Our lecturer in Medical mycology was Welsh too. I think they have a thing about fungi in Wales. Medical mycologists are a rare bred too. Very few of them around.