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Posted by on Jun 22, 2011 in News and Events, Science | 2 comments

Fungus! It’s in the air .. and elsewhere

It’s seems that yesterday was all about fungus. After my post on the mucormycosis, a bunch of other fungus-related articles crossed my desk. Seeing one was an interesting coincidence. Two made it a trend. Three.. well, that’s a blog post!

So here we go ..

Dangerous Fungus In Your Dishwasher! Oh no!

According to many news reports:

A black yeast called Exophiala dermatitidis was found with a cousin fungus, E. phaeomuriformis, in samples taken from dishwashers in 189 homes in 101 cities in six continents…Both species “are known to be able to cause systemic disease in humans and frequently colonize the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis,” says the study.

Mycology Online says:

Exophiala dermatitidis has been isolated from plant debris and soil and is a recognized causative agent of mycetoma and phaeohyphomycosis in humans. Clinical manifestations include subcutaneous cystic lesions, endocarditis and brain abscesses. E. dermatitidis is neurotropic and cerebral infections are frequently seen.

But I do have to wonder if, like the mucor, the likelihood of infection by this fungus is low unless you are immunosuppressed. The mycosis caused by Exophiala sp.  (and other related brown-pigmented fungi) is called phaeohyphomycosis.  Again, according to Mycology Online [bold mine]:

Cerebral phaeohyphomycosis is a rare infection, occurring mostly in immunosuppressed patients following the inhalation of conidia.

(Not sure why one page says that “cerebral infections are frequently seen” and the other page says, “Cerebral phaeohyphomycosis is a rare infection.”  Maybe that it is a rare outcome overall, when looking across the entire Genus, but of the infections caused by E. dermatitidis, cerebral phaeohyphomycosis is seen frequently.)

Subcutaneous phaeohyphomycosis, or skin infections are more common. These are usually caused by a puncture wound or cut where the fungus is essentially inoculated under the skin. While the treatment of such infections is usually straightforward, in immunosuppressed patients the infection can spread rapidly causing scaly, crusty skin lesions or ulcers.  Sinus infections can also occur.

Infectious or not, what makes these fungi really interesting is their extremophile nature. Imagine living in a dishwasher:  Blasts of hot water, agitation, long dry days between storms, and aggressive bombardment with alkaline dishwasher detergent. According to the researchers:

‘The discovery of this widespread presence of extremophilic fungi in some of our common household appliances suggests these organisms have embarked on an extraordinary evolutionary process that could pose a significant risk to human health in the future.’  — Dr. Polona Zalar, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia (and colleagues).

Oh.. and once again, more headlines refer to the fungus as “deadly bacteria.”

‘SpongeBob’ Mushroom Discovered in the Forests of Borneo

What do you do when you discover a bright orange fungus in the forest of Malaysia and you have to give it a scientific name? You call it Spongiforma squarepantsii, after the spongy cartoon character of course!  Well, at least that’s what it’s discoverers, Dennis E. Desjardin, Kabir G. Peay,  and Thomas D. Bruns decided.

From Wikipedia:

The genus name Spongiforma refers to the sponge-like nature of the fruit body, while the specific epithet squarepantsii denotes the similarity with the cartoon character. Additionally, the authors note that the spore-bearing surface, when viewed with scanning electron microscopy, somewhat resembles a “seafloor covered with tube sponges, reminiscent of the fictitious home of SpongeBob”

Cute. But I wonder how that’s going to play a hundred years from now.

Fungus: A Living Landscape

And finally, this lovely time-lapse video (actually a series of stills) showing a miniature landscape of growing, blooming fungus.  It was created by Nick Lariontsev using a very cool camera setup.  So turn your sound on, go full screen,  and enjoy a quiet moment with this one:

Afterward, do not miss this great write-up on the video by Jennifer Frazer over at Artful Amoeba. Jennifer gives a play-by-play of what’s going on in the film and provides some interesting information on the various fungi and mites.

2 Comments

  1. Given this blog name, you may enjoy EndlessForms.com, where you can evolve morphologies via an evolutionary process inspired by concepts from developmental biology.

    • Thanks Jeff. Interesting site! (and great domain name, I must say. 😉 ). Thanks for stopping by.

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