Macao University research breakthrough offers hope for immunocompromised people to reduce risk of fungal infection

(Xinhua) 08:51, August 24, 2021

MACAO, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- A team of researchers from the University of Macao (UM) have made a breakthrough in understanding the biology of fungal spores, which holds promise for protecting immunocompromised people from deadly infections caused by fungal pathogens.

The team, led by Prof. Wong Koon Ho in UM's Faculty of Health Sciences, has discovered the dormancy mechanism of fungal spores, which are the main infectious agent of fungal pathogens that can cause deadly infections in humans.

The study has been featured on the cover of Nature Microbiology.

Fungal spores are the "babies" of fungi and can be found everywhere in the natural environment, according to the study. Dispersed in the air, spores can survive various stresses and environmental conditions and remain dormant for a long time until favourable conditions are encountered. Life-threatening fungal infections usually affect immunocompromised people.

Although the development of fungal spores is generally understood, how spores achieve the state of dormancy remains unclear. To learn more about this, Wong's team conducted an experiment to determine whether dormant spores have any transcriptional activities. They found that the so-called "dormant spores" have robust transcriptional activities and can elicit transcriptional responses to the environment, which are similar to those seen in actively growing cells.

The finding indicates that fungal spores are not really dormant even after the development process is complete, challenging the common notion about spore dormancy. In addition, contrary to previous belief that biological materials in spores, such as mRNA and protein, originated from the cells of conidiophores, the study has found that fungal spores can synthesize mRNA and protein on their own.

The team further found that fungal spores establish dormancy after they are separated from the developmental structure upon dispersal to the environment. It also found that spores' experiences before dispersal (i.e.: before dormancy) could influence their growth, survival, virulence, and toxin production capabilities later after they break dormancy. 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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