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Heat drives fungal mutations that affect health

mutaciones fúngicas, cambio climático, calor, sistema inmunológico

Followers of “The Last of Us” are well aware of fungal mutations. This video game released in 2013, which is now one of the top drama series on HBO in the United States, they know that the apocalyptic story begins with a heat-adapted fungus that takes control of humans and turns them into zombies. While there isn’t a real-life zombie apocalypse on the horizon, scientists say it’s true that fungi can pose a major health problem in a warming world.

Researchers at the Duke University School of Medicine have just publish new discoveries suggesting that heat stress is a driver of genetic mutations in a fungus known to affect human health, called Cryptococcus deneoformans. Their tests on mice showed that the mutated fungus quickly adapted when mice were infected with mutations.”dramatically elevated” at higher temperatures.

Cryptococcus and other fungi are generally not life-threatening to healthy people, although they can be deadly to people living with HIV/AIDS or another condition that compromises the immune system.

But that could change in the future, the Duke scientists said, especially as heat stress increases the number of mutations that affect fungi and the rate at which they are acquired.

These are not infectious diseases in the communicable sense; we do not transmit fungi to each otherexplains Dr. Asiya Gusa, a researcher who will join Duke University as an assistant professor later this year. “But the spores are in the air. We breathe in mold spores all the time, and our immune systems are equipped to fight them off.”.

Fungal diseases on the rise

Cases of fungal diseases are on the rise because more people are living with underlying health issues and weakened immune systems, says Gusa. But the Duke study, which looked at just three heat-stressed elements that led to genetic change in fungi, found that 25 or more similar elements could also be affected by rising temperatures. At least one of the three changes can lead to drug resistance.

And the changes began to emerge just ten days after the mice were infected, the scientists report.

It’s not the zombie apocalypse, that’s for sure, but the popularity of “The Last of Us” and its history facilitate some comparisons about these fungal mutations.

That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about, minus the zombie part!said Gusa.

Taking Fungal Mutations Seriously

It’s time to get serious about pathogenic fungi“, he added. “These types of stress-stimulated changes may contribute to the evolution of pathogenic traits in fungi both in the environment and during infection. They may be evolving faster than we expected.”.

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