Let us underestimate the danger of fungi

Fungicide resistanceMushrooms - a previously underestimated danger

Mushrooms are not just edible morels or mushrooms. Fungi such as powdery mildew or Candida albicans also grow as pests on plants or human tissue. There they are fought on a large scale with fungicides. Over time, however, the fungi develop resistance to the common active ingredients. This has meanwhile given rise to a problem similar to that of antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens, says biologist Sarah Gurr from the University of Exeter. But so far it has been much less noticed in public:

"The public is well aware of the problem of antibiotic resistance. But when it comes to mushrooms, people tend to only think of edible mushrooms on their plates. This is also due to the fact that humans, animals and plants are differently susceptible to disease.

Unlike plants, we humans are more affected by bacterial and viral diseases. We don't get that many fungal infections. "

Don't underestimate the risks

Sarah Gurr warns in a current article in the journal "Science" against underestimating the risks of growing fungicide resistance. It was like scales from her eyes when she recently analyzed data on the global spread of azole resistance in fungi, she says. Azoles form the most important active ingredient class of fungicides - both in agriculture and in human medicine.

"If you look at the spread of resistance on a world map as a film, you can see 40 years of data in five seconds. You can immediately see the tremendous progression of resistance of fungi to azoles in both plants and humans. You can see that azole-resistant fungi are popping up everywhere. "

From harmless fungus to danger

One problem with this is that even mushrooms, which are actually harmless, can suddenly become dangerous. Sarah Gurr mentions Aspergillus fumigatus as an outstanding negative example. This is a mold that normally occurs in the ground and breaks down plant material there. Its spores are spread with the wind and can be found all over the world. We also breathe them in all the time. This is usually not dangerous. Only people with a weakened immune system can have problems and develop severe pneumonia. So far, however, azole-based drugs have also been used. But more and more often they no longer work.

"If you investigate the occurrence of Aspergillus fumigatus in the vicinity of hospitals, you will often find fungi that are resistant to azoles. When they then treat patients with aspergillosis, these terrible lung infections, the doctors must already have all the remaining active ingredients beyond the azoles in the hope of being able to cure the fungal infection. "

Time is running out

If the resistance is not recognized in time, the chances of a cure dwindle dramatically. The death rate from pronounced aspergillosis is over 50 percent. And fatal fungal infections are skyrocketing around the world.

"Fungal infections in humans are responsible for more deaths than malaria or breast cancer. The numbers are comparable to those of tuberculosis or HIV. But this is a barely perceived problem."

It is time for Sarah Gurr to act. The world needs new fungicides. Something is also happening in the field of human medicine. Eleven new active ingredients are currently in phase one and two clinical trials. In agriculture, however, only two new fungicides are currently being developed. And these are just variants of known active ingredients, according to Sarah Gurr. New approaches are needed here in order to delay the development of fungicide resistance for a longer period of time, including genetic engineering in plant breeding.