Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fungi. An exhibition

Whitby Museum, Pannett Park, Whitby, North Yorkshire

21 June - 29 September 2013 This year, the Whitby Naturalists' Club celebrates its centenary and as part of the programme, with kind support from the British Mycological Society, it is putting on an exhibition at the Whitby Museum [www.whitbymuseum.org.uk]. 

The exhibition is a celebration of fungi, through images, models, specimens and other material. The exhibition will be open during normal opening hours of the Museum (Tuesday to Sunday, 09:30 to 16:30, last entry 16:00). 

There is a small charge for admission to the Museum but thereafter admission to the exhibition is free. 

 For further information about the exhibition, please visit the website of the Whitby Naturalists' Club [www.whitbynaturalists.co.uk].

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Development of Guidelines for Mould Prevention and Remediation in the Home

Consistent and comprehensive guidelines over what are acceptable levels of mould in the home or working environment are difficult to find. The US EPA provide a detailed guide for the householder to self-help and NIOSH provide details for the working environment (2012) but neither is fully comprehensive or intends to pronounce on safe levels of moulds.

The American Lung Association has teamed up with a group of individuals in New Hampshire (NH) intending to develop a detailed, comprehensive set of standards of safety for mold exposure and to have them accepted in law by the New Hampshire House of Representatives as a 'Standard of Care' for the mold industry. They (NHMTF) have written a useful first draft that goes into some detail on the best ways to recognise reliable professional help - there are numerous certification schemes that are not viewed as acceptable by the authors.
They have highlighted a series of the most important points:
It is the objective of the NHMTF to better protect the consumer in regards to health risks and unknown costs in dealing with indoor mold.
The NHMTF is in high hopes that as a result of this Standard of Care, we are able to raise the awareness of the consumer and perhaps help guide the legislators of New Hampshire toward adopting mold legislation which will better protect our citizens. In summary, the NHMTF would like to emphasize the following points from this report:  
• Exposure to indoor mold is a potential, and often very serious, health risk to our citizens, and steps must be taken by our lawmakers to protect those sensitive to the effects of mold exposure, especially the very young, the elderly, and the immuno-compromized citizens of NH.
• Third party certifications should be required of Indoor Environmental Professional (IEP)'s, as they are essential in both protecting the citizens of NH as well as maintaining the credibility of mold professionals and the industry as a whole.  
• Consumers should look for third party certifications when hiring a mold professional, as it will save them time and money and give them peace of mind that their problem is being handled safely and professionally 
• Mold testing and mold remediation should be performed by two separate parties in order to protect the consumer and to honor the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct set forth by the ACAC & ABIH.   
• IAQ testing alone is inadequate in most situations, and should be combined with a thorough physical investigation of a building by an IEP, followed by a written statement of findings, conclusions, recommendations, scope of work for remediation and if applicable, clearance testing.  
• Before entering into the mold abatement business, any contractor should acquire professional training and become familiar with technical and reference materials referenced in this document, or risk his or her own health and the health and safety of the client.
Read the full document 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Aspergillus Research Levels Increasing Rapidly

Over the last 25 years the total number of papers published in Pubmed has increased 2.7-fold. In the same time period the number of papers published on aspergillus has increased at a far higher rate - 4.3-fold


Papers published on the medical infection caused by Aspergillus (aspergillosis) have also increased rapidly at 3.5 - fold - see the chart below

This is an illustration of the relative and real increase in the amount of high quality research being carried out on Aspergillus and the diseases caused by Aspergillus as our research advances accumulate. 25 years ago there would have been little genomic information available nor would we know as much about aspergillosis or have the diagnostics and drugs to treat aspergillosis. 25 years ago the use of Aspergillus as a tool to study eukaryotic genetics might have dominated.

More recently there are more transplants causing more cases of acute aspergillosis, increasing numbers of chronic aspergillosis cases being identified (particularly in the UK where we have the National Aspergillosis Centre) and increasing awareness of the involvement of fungi in common illnesses such as severe asthma and tuberculosis.

This is good news for doctors who need better, more rapid diagnostic tests so as to be able to identify infection in time to more effectively treat it, and good news for patients as better means to manage infections are sought with increasing intensity.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Newsbite: New Fungal Metagenomic Database

This technique allows scientists to identify a wide range of microbial species quickly and easily - for example after air sampling. The technique relies on DNA sequences that have several specific properties (variable but not too variable and flanked by non-variable sequences!) which take some time to find. This new database lists a large number of suitable sequences that scientists can refer to if undertaking this type of research.

Fungal Ribosomal Internal Transcribed Spacer 1 Database- ITSoneDB is a comprehensive collection of the fungal ribosomal RNA Internal Transcribed Spacer 1 (ITS1) sequences aimed at supporting metagenomic surveys of fungal environmental communities. The sequences were extracted from Genbank (GB) and arranged on the NCBI taxonomy tree. ITS1 start and end boundaries were defined by GB annotations and/or designed by mapping Hidden Markov Model (HMM) profiles of flanking 18S and 5.8S ribosomal RNA coding genes on each sequence more...

Friday, 8 February 2013

Colonisation or Aspergillosis? That is the Question

Patients who attend hospital who have respiratory disease symptoms are commonly asked for a sputum sample or given a bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) in order to assess the microbial contents of their airways. Samples taken are cultured and what grows out on any of several media is noted as a possible infecting agent. One difficulty is that some micro-organisms can be found by this method whether or not an infection is present so it is not a diagnostic test when carried out on its own - other tests are usually done at the same time.

If Aspergillus grows out of one of these samples the situation is unclear as this fungus along with many others is inhaled into the airways every day during our normal activities as these fungi release spores that float in the air, indoors and out. There is also a phenomenum known as colonisation which is defined as microbes growing on a surface or tissue (e.g. our airways) without causing infection. We do not really know conclusively if a colonising Aspergillus isolate will go on to cause infection if the patient has a normal immune system.

This new paper looks at 126 patients who came into hospital with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which can involve significant scarring of lung tissue and thus forms a potential area of the lung in which Aspergillus can sometimes grow. These patients were either given a sputum sample test or BAL and Aspergillus was detected. The researchers then looked at how many of those people could subsequently be described as suffering from aspergillosis. 1.6 to 3.2% (depending on which criteria for aspergillosis was used) were found to be suffering from aspergillosis.

Other than this study providing a strong suggestion that there needs to be some harmonization of the different criteria for diagnosing aspergillosis (as aspergillosis tends to occur alongside several other illnesses it is sometimes difficult to assess) it also shows that the detection of Aspergillus in sputum or BAL samples is not by itself a good guide to diagnosis of aspergillosis and is probably indicating colonisation of the airways.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Which Patient Groups Are Most at Risk From Aspergillosis in Hospital

This study collected a large amount of data on invasive aspergillosis patients in  intensive care units (ICU) at a group of  North American hospitals in order to assess the major groups at risk of invasive aspergillosis (other than those groups already well established as high risk) and the financial cost to those hospitals of treating those patients, with regard to how costs could be reduced.

It is worth noting that these patients are seriously ill and are in hospital as a consequence of that illness. These are not people with chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA) or aspergilloma, ABPA or any other chronic form of aspergillosis, they have an acute infection that rapidly progresses, normally due to the patient having a suppressed immune system. Acute invasive aspergillosis is rare outside of the hospital setting.
Background: Few data are available regarding the epidemiology of invasive aspergillosis (IA) in ICU patients. The aim of this study was to examine epidemiology and economic outcomes (length of stay, hospital costs) among ICU patients with IA who lack traditional risk factors for IA, such as cancer, transplants, neutropenia or HIV infection. 
Methods: Retrospective cohort study using Premier Inc. Perspective™ US administrative hospital database (2005– 2008). Adults with ICU stays and aspergillosis (ICD-9 117.3 plus 484.6) who received initial antifungal therapy (AF) in the ICU were included. Patients with traditional risk factors (cancer, transplant, neutropenia, HIV/AIDS) were excluded. The relationship of antifungal therapy and co-morbidities to economic outcomes were examined using Generalized linear models. 
Results: From 6,424 aspergillosis patients in the database, 412 (6.4%) ICU patients with IA were identified. Mean age was 63.9 years and 53% were male. Frequent co-morbidities included steroid use (77%), acute respiratory failure (76%) and acute renal failure (41%). In-hospital mortality was 46%. The most frequently used AF was voriconazole (71% received at least once). Mean length of stay (LOS) was 26.9 days and mean total hospital cost was $76,235. Each 1 day lag before initiating AF therapy was associated with 1.28 days longer hospital stay and 3.5% increase in costs (p < 0.0001 for both). 
Conclusions: Invasive aspergillosis in ICU patients is associated with high mortality and hospital costs. Antifungal timing impacts economic outcomes. These findings underscore the importance of timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and consideration of Aspergillus as a potential etiology in ICU patients.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Fungal Furniture

We have often written about the uses fungi and in particular Aspergillus can be put to for food, industrial products, teas, sauces and so on. This latest example is something quite different.

Designer Philip Ross has taken putting fungi to use in a different direction - he is using fungi to grow furniture!

Ross, an artist, inventor and self-taught mycologist, says he "just allows these monstrosities to emerge". I'd call them organic beauties. Semantics aside, his chairs, footstools and tables withstand weight, falls and a fair bit of fire or water before they eventually degrade. Fungal furniture outlasts Ikea wares easily, Ross says.
Ross's rotten furniture line follows years of mushroom sculpting. His obsession with fungus began two decades ago when he worked as a chef who grew his own oyster mushrooms at home. He noticed that once the mushrooms sprout they bend in patterns that allow them to capture rays of sunlight beaming in from his windows. Curiosity piqued, Ross began to control their growth by filtering the incoming light into various shapes.
After a while, Ross's sights turned to the fungal body growing below mushrooms, which forms a rich network of thin fibres that normally remain underground. Where mushrooms are delicate and soon degrade, their body, or soma, is tough, durable and, as Ross discovered, manipulable.
Currently, his chosen fungus is Ganoderma lucidum (commonly called reishi or lingzhi), which has been hailed for its healing powers in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years. Reishi feeds on various woods, but the fungal furniture on display during his residency at Workshop Residence once feasted upon red oak sawdust.
As it digests the wood, it rearranges the fibres and forms a hard substance called chitin, also found in crab shells. The arrangement of the sawdust and the size of its chunks alter the chitinous forms that result.

Though this furniture would be frowned upon for use in homes by people who suffer from serious allergies and asthma (and 8% of children are apparently allergic to Ganoderma in a study carried out in Canada), it seems quite practical in that it is strong and durable. The artist states that the fungal material is baked and varnished to prevent live spores escaping into the atmosphere but this may well not be enough as at least some allergens are resistant to heat, and of course wear and damage to the furniture would expose the mycelia.

Not furniture we would like to see in homes with young children!

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