(TheHeraldPost) – As global temperatures continue to rise, we find ourselves confronting an array of new challenges. One often overlooked consequence of climate change is the potential for the rapid evolution of pathogenic fungi, which could pose a significant threat to human health. Until now, pathogenic fungi such as Candida, Aspergillus, and Cryptococcus have been primarily a concern for immune-compromised individuals. However, recent research from Duke University School of Medicine suggests that increasing temperatures may prompt these fungi to adapt, increasing both their heat resistance and their disease-causing potential.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on the fungus Cryptococcus deneoformans. Researchers found that higher temperatures caused the fungus’ transposable elements, or jumping genes, to become more active, leading to changes in gene usage and regulation. According to postdoctoral researcher Asiya Gusa, Ph.D., “These mobile elements are likely to contribute to adaptation in the environment and during an infection,” and heat stress can accelerate the rate of mutations.
Unlike bacteria and viruses, pathogenic fungi are not typically communicable diseases. Still, their spores are present in the air we breathe, and our immune systems are equipped to fight them. The current increase in fungal diseases is mainly due to a growing number of people with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions. However, this new research suggests that pathogenic fungi might also be adapting to warmer temperatures.
Gusa and her team studied three transposable elements in C. deneoformans that were particularly active under heat stress. They found that after 800 generations of growth, the rate of transposon mutations was five times higher in fungi raised at body temperature (37°C) compared with fungi raised at 30°C