Biology

New clues to origin of mysterious deadly antibiotic-resistant pathogen

New clues to origin of mysteri...
Candida auris is a fungus and member of the yeast family
Candida auris is a fungus and member of the yeast family
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Candida auris is a fungus and member of the yeast family
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Candida auris is a fungus and member of the yeast family

A new study is offering clues to the origins of a deadly antibiotic-resistant fungal pathogen that mysteriously appeared in hospitals around the world 10 years ago. The study chronicles the discovery of the pathogen for the first time in a remote natural environment and builds on a growing hypothesis that global warming may be prompting the evolution of these new fungal threats.

About a decade ago a new fungal pathogen was detected in a Tokyo hospital. It was resistant to most known antibiotics and it was subsequently named Candida auris.

This pathogen was detected nearly simultaneously in hospitals across several continents and presented a major mystery for scientists. What was driving the emergence of this novel pathogen in geographically separate sites at virtually the same time?

A new study, published in the journal mBio, is offering clues to the origins of this deadly fungal pathogen. Researchers have, for the first time, discovered Candida auris in a natural environment.

Anuradha Chowdhary, from the University of Delhi, has studied Candida auris for nearly as long as we have known it existed. Chowdhary was inspired to look for the pathogen in natural environments after an article hypothesized global warming to be responsible for its emergence.

Candida auris was unusually tolerant of high temperatures and salinity, unlike its other close relatives. The hypothesis suggested particular coastal wetlands, with ecosystems very susceptible to global warming, could serve as unique ecological niches for this new kind of fungus to evolve.

Exploring that hypothesis Chowdhary and a team of researchers collected a variety of environmental samples from eight different sites around the tropical Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal. Candida auris isolates were detected across two separate sites, a beach high in human activity and a more isolated salt marsh wetland.

“The isolates found in the area where there was human activity were more related to strains we see in the clinical setting,” says Chowdhary. “It might be coming from plants, or might be shed from human skin, which we know C. auris can colonize. We need to explore more environmental niches for the pathogen.”

In a commentary accompanying the new study, the trio of researchers behind the original global warming hypothesis article call the findings a “landmark discovery.” The commentary suggests it is conceivable the samples found on the public beach could have been carried there by people from health-care environments, but the two samples found in the remote wetlands were much more interesting.

The two isolates discovered in the wetlands were quite genetically distinct from each other. One of the strains in particular presented with a reduced heat tolerance compared to clinical strains of Candida auris. This suggests it may be a wild ancestor strain of the deadly pathogen found in hospitals, adding weight to the global warming emergence hypothesis.

“This study takes the first step in toward understanding how pathogen survives in the wetland, but this is just one niche,” notes Chowdhary.

The new research does not wholly validate the global warming emergence hypothesis, but it does at the very least suggest Candida auris existed as an environmental fungus in nature before it appeared in hospitals as a superbug a decade ago. More natural samples of the fungus will need to be uncovered and studied before a clearer insight can be garnered into how this pathogen developed.

“Validating or refuting the global warming emergence hypothesis for C. auris will require a deeper exploration of the environmental isolates and closely related species,” the trio of researchers write in their supporting commentary. “Support for the hypothesis would consist of finding more C. auris isolates with borderline mammalian thermotolerance and perhaps that these isolates can be adapted to grow at higher temperatures through laboratory selection for growth at higher temperatures.”

The new study was published in the journal mBio.

Source: American Society for Microbiology

9 comments
9 comments
nick101
Hmmm, grows where it's warm wet and humid? Must be global warming, there's no other explanation! ;)
piperTom
Everything unpleasant is caused by global warming.
Worzel
The planet is not warming in any significant way. It's the coldest its been for 270 million years since the Permian extinction. In addition, it's been getting steadily colder for the past 30-40 million years and is currently in an Ice Age, which has many more tens of millions of years to run its course.
However, as fungal spores are endemic in the environment, which includes hospitals, where repeated, partial elimination by inadequate sterilising measures, would have ensured that the strongest and most lethal varieties survived, is far more likely than any non existent 'global warming,' to have caused the problem.
Douglas Rogers
The authors presented no evidence that the examined environment was warming.
Karmudjun
Quick Worzel & DR, get off the internet, TV, and Radio because the studies regarding global warming, changing weather patterns, frequent 100 year calamities from extended hurricane seasons to massive flooding to the loss of coral reefs in acidic tidewaters that are hotter than they have every been will just continue. And no, they will not provide either of you with irrefutable proof. Or even care if you don't realize the process of adaptation to more extreme conditions in tidewater areas. Nature has a way of ameliorating the extreme insults to the environment. But humans have to protect themselves and their beliefs from reality - got any tin foil?
ljaques
You took the exact words out of my mouth, Nick101.
I wonder how it fares against Caprylic Acid, which works for Candida albicans.
aki009
Drivel. It's far more likely that a common supplier shipped contaminated products or packaging to the sites. That's usually the vector when the same thing shows up in multiple places at once. But then again, if pigs had wings, they could fly, right?
Worzel
Karmudjun should try reading science, and not ''Global Warming/Carbon Tax'' propaganda.
Ralf Biernacki
Not everyone is aware that there is a difference between science and journalism. On a different note, fungal spores are easily windborne, which goes a long way towards explaining the quick worldwide spread of this pathogen, once it evolved the (highly unusual for fungi) heat tolerance needed to infect homeotherms.