Monday, 21 October 2013

Fungal infections pose a significant threat to the health of our plants and animals and ecosystem

At  the recent 6th Trends in Medical Mycology conference held in Copenhagen, Dr Fisher presented a significant case that fungi are emerging as a serious threat to both animal and plant health and to the health of the ecosystem worldwide.
The fungal kingdom is incredibly diverse with an estimated 1.5 million species but probably 500 times more may exist.
Amphibian chytridiomycosis

Whilst we use fungi to our benefit in a variety of ways - from drug development to food production - emerging infectious fungi nevertheless represent a serious threat to the Earth's ecosystem. Several animals species, including various amphibians, bats, honeybees and snakes, have been the victims of pandemic fungal diseases and this threat appears to be widespread amongst animals including turtles (Fusarium solani) and corals(Aspergillus sydowii).
Many types of fungi can cause life threatening infections in humans and related hospital admissions are rising. Plants are not exempt from the fungal attack- they represent a serious threat to plant health worldwide. Here in the UK, Chalara fraxinea (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus), or ash dieback is spreading through our ash tree population like wildfire, having destroyed over 100,000 ash trees since discovery of the disease in 2012. Global disease alerts show that fungal alerts are increasing in relation to other pathogenic causes; and fungi have become the highest threat to extinction (by infection) in both animal (72% of extinctions)  and  plant (64% of extinctions) species. Alarmingly this threat is increasing with time. The bat species Myotis lucifugus  is almost certain to become extinct in just over a decade as the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungi spreads.

Humans are spreading the problem by transportation - accidentally and  commercially, but evidence (Bebber et al 2013) now shows that climate change is enhancing the spread of fungi - by allowing establishment in previously unsuitable locations. They report a shift in distribution of many pathogens (since 1960) as measured by a poleward shift annually since that time, of many pathogens including fungi. The distribution of some other taxonomic groups such as nematodes have shifted away from the poles.

These increasing trends represent a threat, in both the short and long term, to human, animal and plant health. The high socio-economic cost to crops and healthcare provide good impetus for further research, as the battle is not one which we can afford to lose.

(Fisher, M et al . (2013) Emerging fungal threats to animal, plant and ecosystem health. Presented at the 6th Trends in Medical Mycology, Copenhagen, Denmark: Presentation) view

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