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Pathogenic fungi could get stronger as the climate grows warmer

While mushrooms may now be helping combat depression, not all fungi are friends. Evolved types, such as pathogenic fungi, pose a threat to human health and studies warn that climate change could increase their potency.

We’ve been warned time and time again about the human health risks posed by a warmer climate.

Fighting off infection, reducing the spread of viruses, and stopping novel and dangerous pathogens from travelling between animals and humans are all challenges likely to become more difficult in the future.

Now, scientists from Duke University in North Carolina have pointed to a new potential danger. They’ve raised the alarm about pathogenic fungi, which have the ability to mutate and adapt when exposed to hotter temperatures.

Pathogenic fungi have been affecting humans for centuries. The most common manifestations of those infected by them will occur in the fingernails or toenails, as short-term yeast infections, or as the skin condition known as ringworm.

Though the vast majority of healthy people have no issue recovering from these issues, new research suggests pathogenic fungi could become especially potent and dangerous when exposed to hotter surroundings.

That’s bad news for even the healthiest of us.

What does the research show?   

At present, there are 300 known types of pathogenic fungi, including the most recognised: Candida, Aspergillus, and Cryptococcus.

These mainly cause serious problems for those with deficient immune systems. But like many other viruses and diseases, it’s worth checking out how a hotter planet could change that.

In the lab, researchers subjected these common fungi to higher temperatures. What they witnessed was a rapid genetic change in Cryptococcus, the pathogenic fungus which causes meningitis.

These genetic changes allowed the microorganism to quickly accelerate its number of mutations, which in turn increased its ability to adapt and transform the way its genes are used and regulated.

Such mutations enable the pathogenic fungus to withstand a particularly stressful environment. According to the researchers at Duke University, this activity could continue to their advantage while infecting a host. Creepy.

As a result of these findings, the published study lists increased temperatures, potential drug resistance, and increased disease as variables that the medical field should be conscious of.

At present, official figures show that fungal infections cause more annual deaths (1.7 million) than AIDs and tuberculosis. But this is primarily because treatments for the latter two have drastically improved.

Still, there’s also no cause for panic just yet.

It’s likely we will soon see increased efforts to improve treatment for fungal infections, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has prioritised them for public health action.

This means closely monitoring all cases, deaths, and drug resistance related to these pathogens, as well as building upon our knowledge gaps and preventing the global spread of them.

But how about we halt climate change altogether, so we don’t have to worry about pathogenic fungi spirally out of control inside our bodies – deal?